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Vaccination Against Covid-19

Vaccination Against Covid-19
The questions were answered by Dr. med. Christoph Specht, physician and medical journalist

Inhaltsverzeichnis

1. How effective are the vaccines?

The good news is that all approved vaccines effectively prevent moderate and severe forms of the disease. Based on the study data alone, the Biontech vaccine is the frontrunner with 95 per cent effectiveness. This means that 95 per cent fewer cases of the disease occur among those vaccinated with the Biontech vaccine compared to unvaccinated people. 

2. Who can get vaccinated?

Vaccination against the coronavirus is voluntary and free of charge. Anyone covered by a statutory or private health insurance scheme in Germany, or those considered habitual residents in Germany, can get vaccinated. There is no obligation to be vaccinated.

3. How long does it take for a Covid vaccine to work?

Vaccines protection effect is achieved gradually – this is the same for all vaccines. This means that you will have little or no protection shortly after the injection. The maximum vaccine protection will be achieved around 10-14 days after the second injection, depending on the type of vaccine. In the case of Johnson&Johnson – this vaccine is administered in a single shot – and becomes most effective against moderate and severe Covid-19 illnesses courses 28 days after administration.

4. How long should I wait before having the second injection?

The recommendations of the Permanent Vaccination Committee (STIKO) are to be followed. For example, currently, STIKO recommends 12 weeks between injections using AstraZeneca and six weeks for Biontech vaccines. Minor deviations from this recommendation will certainly not make a significant difference, but, in principle, these recommendations are to be followed.

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5. How come is it possible to combine different vaccines?

That is a good question – as of today, we cannot tell exactly why. Generally speaking, vaccines should not be combined. However, the need to do so comes from the fact that people under 60 years of age are not to receive their second injection of AstraZeneca vaccine - and should instead have an mRNA vaccine as the second dose. Studies on combinations of different vaccines are underway and are not expected to have surprising negative results, but they have not yet been concluded. One can even expect vaccine protection to rather increase when combined with another.

6. Are vaccines effective against virus variants?

It depends on how efficacy is defined here. All vaccines approved in Germany seem to be able to prevent serious outcomes even after infection with one of the virus variants known to date. However, the process does not follow an "all-or-nothing" principle (i.e., either 100 per cent efficacy or none at all). The more the virus changes genetically (compared to the original) through mutations, the easier it can evade our immune system - and vaccines. However, in principle, this does not happen all of a sudden but gradually. If you are vaccinated or have recovered from the disease, currently, you are sufficiently protected against a severe course of illness if re-infected with a variant. However, with the South African variant (B.1.351) of the virus, the AstraZeneca vaccine can hardly prevent even mild to moderate symptoms.

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7. Should I be afraid of side effects?

The usual side effects of vaccination, which are indeed signs of the desired body response to the vaccine, e.g. headache, fatigue, pain at the injection site, perhaps also a fever, can occur with all vaccines. This is something to be aware of beforehand, and there is no reason to worry about it. Rather, these signs show that the body is responding to the vaccine. They are often associated with the responses we refer to as side effects. On the other hand, some people experience no side effects at all. As long as these vaccine responses occur within the described scope, there is no need to worry. They can be annoying, but they will pass without any need for treatment.

8. What is the risk of late complications following the vaccination?

Here, the underlying fear is that a disease may occur, perhaps many months or years from now, linked to the vaccine despite appearing much later. In reality, however, if complications from vaccinations occur at all, they manifest in a relatively short period after the vaccination, i.e. within a few days to weeks. This is because the vaccination is not administered over a period of months or years like medication, and a complication can then develop once a certain quantity has been reached through permanent administration.

Complications associated with vaccines are fortunately quite rare – nevertheless, some have been observed before, for example, in vaccines developed against swine flu. Also, in that case, complications, namely a particular form of sleep disorder (narcolepsy), occurred shortly after the vaccination. What may indeed take a while is studying connections between different disorders and the vaccination because the symptoms are often ones that can also occur in other contexts, so any correlations between them and the vaccination must first be proven in comprehensive studies. Before Sars-CoV-2o vaccines, no other vaccine had been administered to several million people within such a short time. This means that we have an enormous amount of data available at this early point in time. This data does not contain any cause for concern.

9. Can I still get infected after being vaccinated?

This is, generally speaking, possible. The efficacy of the vaccines has first and foremost been examined to see whether they can prevent people from falling ill, i.e., getting infected and having symptoms. Meanwhile, we also have data on whether it is possible to get re-infected: Re-infection is possible in individual cases, especially when the virus has developed further genetically from the original (a virus variant). However, in these cases, people usually have a mild infection that often causes no symptoms or only mild symptoms.

10. Can people who have been vaccinated still transmit the virus to others?

 Since re-infection or infection is possible, at least in some cases, even after the vaccination, generally, transmission is also possible. Nevertheless, we have reassuring data in this regard now. The data shows that vaccinated individuals, should they get infected, produce considerably smaller amounts of viruses. It is, therefore, safe to assume that vaccinated people, even when infected, are much less contagious than people who have not been vaccinated.

11. Have the vaccines been sufficiently checked for safety?

The vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency have been subjected to extensive reviews. These review processes were not curtailed, as would have been possible, for example, in the case of a national emergency approval. The bureaucratic part of the process, however, was streamlined.  For instance, different study phases were allowed to take place in parallel and not following one another. Plus, the submission of documents was carried out in a so-called rolling procedure, i.e., the review was started before all the results had come in. As vaccines against Sars-CoV-2 have meanwhile been administered more than a billion times worldwide, we now have a large amount of data on hand. Also, quite rare side effects have been detected due to the vast number of vaccines administered. In this respect, the vaccines can reasonably be called the best-researched vaccines of all time.

12. Why will there be a vaccine specifically for children and young people, and when will it be available?

Studies within which available vaccines are tested on children and young people have been ongoing for a while now. Preliminary results are notable. I don't assume that the vaccine for children and young people will be different from those already approved. At best, the dosage may have to be adapted for very young children, i.e. those under 12 years old- so the first step will be an extended approval for children from 12 to 15 years old. Relevant applications have been submitted, and an extended approval can, under certain circumstances, be granted quite soon.

13. Will vaccines have to be boosted in the coming years?

There is no certainty on this issue to date. However, we know that immunisation will not last for life and lasts less in older people than in younger ones. Therefore, it can be expected that older people might be recommended a third booster injection, perhaps as early as the end of this year. I personally believe that we will, time and again, be discussing slightly modified vaccines for all adults over the coming years, but I don't think that we will be vaccinating against Covid for decades to come. Rather, over time, I think our population will develop excellent partial immunity to the coronavirus and its variants - so that diseases, infections, and in individual cases, deaths will still occur but significantly less than what we see now.

14. Can I go to my vaccination appointment even if I don't have a vaccination certificate?

Yes, of course. You will then receive a substitute certificate for the vaccination. If and when you find your vaccination certificate, your Covid vaccination can be recorded there and/or the loose sheet can serve as an appendix. In principle, everyone should have a vaccination certificate. In Germany, vaccine certificates have only been available in analogue form so far, i.e., a small yellow booklet. Your Covid vaccination will also be recorded in the same booklet. From June onwards, a Europe-wide vaccination certificate for Covid vaccination is to be available in digital form and valid internationally.

15. Should I get my injection at a vaccination centre or from my family doctor?

This is a matter of personal preference. The advantage of the family doctor is that he or she usually knows you, and you may therefore have a more trusting relationship with them. But there is generally no reason not to get vaccinated at a vaccination centre. To make an appointment for vaccination, please call the nationwide-available telephone number 116117 or book an appointment online at www.116117.de


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