So far, nearly 50 million Covid-19 vaccines have been administered across Europe, while more than 23.1 million people in the UK have received their first dose. Billions more are looking forward to taking the first step to getting their lives back.
Dr Annette Alaeus, a Livi medical doctor and infectious disease specialist, explains that vaccination may be the only road out of the pandemic and that we all have a role to play.
‘Everyone who can be vaccinated should make a commitment to protect not only themselves but everyone in their community,’ she says.
But what happens once you’ve had the Covid-19 vaccination? Is there anything to worry about? And how soon can we all get ‘back to normal’?
Will the vaccine stop me from getting Covid-19?
It’s too early to say if the vaccines can stop people from getting Covid-19. The clinical trials prove they can prevent moderate to severe disease, says Dr Alaeus.
That means people who have been vaccinated may still catch SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, but they’re less likely to need hospital care or die from it.
Can I give Covid-19 to someone if I’ve had the vaccine?
The more people who receive the vaccine, the more scientists will learn about how it affects transmission of the virus, says Dr Alaeus.
‘In countries like the UK and Israel, where many people have been vaccinated, it seems the rates of newly infected people are starting to decline,’ she says.
This suggests the vaccines may prevent transmission of the virus, but more studies are needed before we can be sure.
Can I stop social distancing after I’ve had the vaccine?
Everyone needs to continue following their country’s infection-control measures after vaccination – including rules on social distancing and wearing masks.
While we know the vaccinated person is protected, they may still be able to pass the virus on. Social distancing is the best way to keep everyone, especially vulnerable people, safe while the vaccine is rolled out.
What are the main side effects of the Covid-19 vaccines?
The possible side effects are similar across all vaccines, and they all tend to go away on their own after a day or so. The most common include:
- Swelling or pain around the area of the injection
- Flu-like symptoms, like fatigue, chills or a fever
- Joint pain, for some people
In rare cases, people can have an allergic reaction. Dr Alaeus says this usually only affects people with severe allergies or those who have reacted badly to vaccines before.
‘The Covid-19 vaccine studies are some of the largest trials we’ve ever seen. We also have huge amounts of real-life data from the countries that have been rolling the vaccines out,’ she says.
‘There have been extremely few serious side effects and those that we’ve seen, we’ve been able to cope with.’
Why do most vaccines require 2 doses?
Dr Alaeus explains that the first dose usually gives a high level of protection. The second dose is a ‘booster’. It stimulates the immune system to produce a wider range of immune cells and helps the vaccine to last longer.
As time goes by, we’ll learn more about the optimum length of time to leave between doses.
Can I go back to normal activities, like work or exercise, after having the vaccine?
Most people will be able to carry on with their normal activities after having the vaccine. Sometimes, you might need to rest for a couple of days if you have side effects like flu-like symptoms. Dr Alaeus advises that there’s no need to avoid exercise if you feel fine.
How long does the vaccine last?
Because these vaccines are so new, we don’t know how long they will last yet. Some people might need a booster shot in the future, but it’s too early to tell. ‘Probably after a year or so there will be a need for a new shot, but the future will tell. We need to keep following up with people and collecting the data,’ says Dr Alaeus.
How do the vaccines work?
There are 2 main types of Covid-19 vaccine. Both train the immune system to fight the virus by mimicking an infection. Read more about how vaccines work in this doctor Q&A.
How well do the different vaccines work?
There are differences in how effective the various vaccines are at protecting people from the virus. Scientists call this the efficacy rate, and, with the current vaccines, it ranges from around 70% to 95%.
‘From the start, we were hoping for a vaccine that could protect at least 50% of people,’ says Dr Alaeus. ‘This is the figure at which we’d usually be able to reduce the spread of the virus, so everything above that is an advantage.’
How well do the vaccines work against new variants?
‘This is how viruses work – there will always be new variants as they adapt to new environments and new hosts,’ says Dr Alaeus.
Experts use full genome sequencing to identify new variants and study how they respond to the vaccines. There is now enough data to show they’re still effective against the UK variant, but work in other areas and for other strains is ongoing.
If and when evidence shows some vaccines are less effective or even ineffective against certain variants, the scientific community is prepared. ‘We have a range of different vaccines to choose from and they can all be updated relatively quickly,’ says Dr Alaeus. Read more about Covid-19 variants here.
Why should I have the vaccine?
The vaccines may not be suitable for under-18s, pregnant women or some people who have weakened immune systems. Everyone else is advised to take up the offer of a Covid-19 vaccine – this is because the fewer virus cases we have circulating in the community, the better we can protect those who are unable to have the vaccine, says Dr Alaeus.
Anyone who has concerns about the vaccine should talk to a doctor, she concludes. With the Livi app, you can get medical advice from a GP the same day.