The short answer is–Yes. But read on. Even as the country opened up COVID-19 vaccinations for the 18-44 age group, there have been reports from various states regarding vaccine shortage. Ironically, there have also been accounts of vaccine hesitancy and questions on how safe the COVID-19 vaccines are.
This is not new. The spread of misinformation about vaccines via Whatsapp and social media as well as worries about adverse side-effects have led some to wonder if the vaccines are safe to take and has contributed towards vaccine hesitancy.
Added to this, many think they won’t get the SARS-CoV-2 virus due to strong immunity, and those who have already had it and recovered wonder why they should bother getting vaccinated. Medical experts reiterate over and over again that getting vaccinated against the novel coronavirus is a must, and that the vaccines are safe.
“The vaccine is the only way to get out of this epidemic, and that’s the main reason we all need to get the vaccine,” says Dr Vijayalakshmi B, Senior Consultant Infectious Diseases, Kauvery Hospital. “It (the virus) is going to mutate and it is going to spread, as we are the ones who carry it. And the only way to arrest the virus is to bring up our immunity. This can only be done by vaccinating.”
There have also been concerns about whether the development and production of the vaccines has been rushed, since the vaccines were developed in less than a year. It is important to note that coronavirus is not new. There are many types of coronavirus, such as the ones that cause the common cold, SARS (severe acute respiratory system) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). So scientists are aware and have had knowledge about the coronavirus family and that coupled with new technologies enabled them to discover vaccines faster.
Currently, there are three vaccines available in India. Oxford-AstraZenaca’s Covishield produced by the Serum Institute of India and Covaxin from Bharat Biotech are the most widely available ones. Most recently, the Russian-made vaccine Sputnik V (imported and distributed by Hyderabad-based Dr Reddy’s Lab) is being administered in some private hospitals in the country.
All three vaccines have undergone rigorous testing and been put through different trial phases. A vaccine undergoes three phases of testing in clinical trials in humans. In Phase I, the vaccine is tested on a small number of healthy adults to check how safe it is and verify that an immune response takes place. Phase II involves testing the vaccine on a larger number of people (few hundreds) to further confirm its safety and efficacy. Multiple trials take place during this phase and even double-blind tests, where there are two groups of people (those who get the vaccine and those who don’t) and neither the volunteers nor the scientists know who received the vaccine. This is done to prevent bias. And finally, in Phase III the vaccine is tested on thousands of people spread across many sites to further demonstrate that it is safe and effective.
The indigenous Covaxin, recently released interim data from Phase III clinical trials, which revealed the vaccine is safe to take and has an efficacy of 78%. In February, the interim analysis of Phase III trials of Sputnik V was published in The Lancet, which said the vaccine is safe and showed efficacy. AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine underwent Phase III trials, with the data proving that it is safe. This vaccine’s efficacy against SARS-CoV-2 infection is 63.09%.
It is important to note that according to the Drug Controller General of India (DGCI), a potential vaccine against COVID-19 should offer a minimum of 50% protection and protect against infection.
In spite of all the data and science, many people still have qualms about taking the vaccine. As mentioned earlier, this also happens when they see and hear about the side effects.
While there have been reports of Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI), these are tiny when compared to the total vaccines given. Earlier this month a panel investigating adverse effects following COVID-19 vaccinations found 26 cases of bleeding and clotting after the Covishield vaccine was given. This is a reporting rate of 0.61 per million doses. In fact, the National AEFI Committee to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said that the number of AEFI cases in India are minuscule and are in line with the expected number of these conditions in the country. The government added that there were no potential thromboembolic events reported following the administration of Covaxin.
“Adults rarely take vaccines in India, and have forgotten that there will be side effects, “ says Founder and Managing Director of Kauvery Group of Hospitals, Dr Manivannan Selvaraj. Medical experts repeat that minor side effects are completely normal with any vaccine. Some of the common side effects from COVID-19 vaccines are low grade fever, mild dizziness, pain at the vaccine site, and body ache. These side effects usually last just a couple of days.
So, the science is clear. The vaccines are both effective and safe and right now, the best bet against the novel coronavirus. As Dr Manivannan Selvaraj says, “Vaccines significantly reduce mortality rate and reduce hospital admission.” So yes, please take the vaccine.