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All you need to know about the COVID-19 Vaccination in NZ

May 9, 2021


All you need to know about the COVID-19 Vaccination in NZ

As the rollout of the vaccination gets underway, we thought it is important to give you an update on how it works and how effective it is. The take-home message is that all the Medplus doctors and nurses highly recommend that you have the vaccination when you are offered it, it is very safe and very effective. Our team could not wait to get the vaccine and jumped at the opportunity when it finally arose for us. Whilst we are now protected, we are looking forward to our local community being safely vaccinated too. We would love to wave goodbye to our red clinic and face masks!

Do not be under any illusion, we will not be able to stay COVID-19 free here in NZ forever. Having the vaccine is what this team of 5 million can do to end the pandemic, protect our elderly and vulnerable, support our hospitals and medical services and open our borders again. The sooner the vaccine rollout happens the better it will be for all of us.

The details about where and when you will be given the vaccine will be in a separate article (and yes we wish it was us vaccinating you, but unfortunately, it is not) but for a summary head to https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-vaccines/covid-19-getting-vaccine/covid-19-when-you-can-get-vaccine

Which vaccine are we using in New Zealand?

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be offered to everyone over 16 years in New Zealand. This vaccine is known by the brand name Comirnaty. It is a mRNA vaccine, given as 2 doses at least 21 days apart. There are other vaccinations being used overseas.

How does this mRNA Pfizer Vaccine Work?

Vaccines equip the body to be ready to fight future exposure to bacteria or viruses, to prevent infection. Typically, vaccines introduce into the body a harmless piece of a particular bacteria or virus, triggering an immune response. Most vaccines contain a weakened or killed bacteria or virus, or a small part of one. However, new vaccine types have been developed that use a molecule called messenger RNA (or mRNA for short) rather than part of an actual bacteria or virus. Messenger RNA is a type of RNA that is necessary for protein production. In cells, mRNA uses the information in genes to create instructions for making proteins. Once cells finish making a protein, they quickly break down the mRNA. mRNA from vaccines does not enter the nucleus and does not alter DNA.

The type of virus that causes COVID-19 is called a coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. The coronavirus has a crown of spikes that stick out all around it. These points are called spike proteins. These spike proteins stick to and get inside the cells of our bodies and make us sick. Medical researchers have learned the code for the spike protein that causes COVID-19.

mRNA vaccines work by introducing a piece of mRNA that instructs the cell to make a viral protein, in the case of the Pfizer vaccination, the mRNA has instructions on how to make the spike protein. Using this mRNA blueprint, cells produce the spike protein.

When the vaccine enters the body, the mRNA in the vaccine creates protein factories in the cells around the area where the vaccine is injected. Your body uses the mRNA to make many copies of the fake coronavirus spike. Since it is fake, you cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine.

As part of a normal immune response, the immune system recognizes that the spike protein being created is foreign and produces specialized proteins called antibodies. Antibodies help protect the body against infection by recognizing individual viruses or other pathogens, attaching to them, and marking the pathogens for destruction. Once produced, antibodies remain in the body, even after the body has rid itself of the pathogen, so that the immune system can quickly respond if exposed again. If a person is exposed to a virus after receiving mRNA vaccination for it, antibodies can quickly recognize it, attach to it, and mark it for destruction before it can cause serious illness. The mRNA is broken down shortly after vaccination. Animal studies showed that the mRNA in the Comirnaty vaccine is broken down within a couple of weeks.

To see a diagram of how the vaccination works go to

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/vaccines/COVID-19-mRNA-infographic_G_508.pdf

REMEMBER

mRNA vaccines cannot give someone COVID-19 – they do not use the live virus that causes COVID-19.

mRNA vaccines do not affect or interact with our DNA in any way, mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA (genetic material) is kept. The cell breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA soon after it is finished using the instructions.

mRNA vaccines are a new technology being used for preventing COVID-19 infection but are based on science that is decades old. See this article in Nature in January 2018 to see that they were exciting before COVID-19 existed https://www.nature.com/articles/nrd.2017.243

For those of you interested in a bit more detail https://www.statnews.com/2020/11/10/the-story-of-mrna-how-a-once-dismissed-idea-became-a-leading-technology-in-the-covid-vaccine-race/

Fortunately, the science was ready to roll just when COVID-19 came along, and COVID-19 may be the first disease being tackled by mRNA vaccination, but it will not be the last.

How effective is the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine?

The answer, quite simply, is that it is spectacularly effective. It is a feat of amazing medical research and engineering, and something that many of us doubted would be possible this time last year.

On 5th May 2021, the Lancet – a famed and trusted medical journal, published some research on the Pfizer vaccine from Israel. This was a fantastic real world observational study to see the impact of the vaccine given at the time Israel was in the worst wave of COVID 19 it had experienced. Between December 2020 and April 2021 more than 10 million doses of vaccine were given, 54% of the entire population of 91 million people, and 88% of people aged 50 years or older, had received two doses, 21 days apart. Israel's situation provided an opportunity to examine vaccine effectiveness and the impact of high vaccine coverage in real-life conditions at a national level.

Estimates of vaccine effectiveness at 7 days or longer after the second dose really reinforced what was found in the phase 3 trials.

91% effective against asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection,

97% effective against symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection,

97% effective against COVID-19-related hospitalisation,

97% effective against severe or critical COVID-19-related hospitalisation

96% effective against COVID-19-related death.

Vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection, COVID-19-related hospitalisation, and COVID-19-related death exceeded 96% across all age groups, including older adults.

Read this research for yourself through the link below

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00947-8/fulltext

Side effects of vaccination

The side effects of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are side effects we are familiar with when having any vaccine. The side effects appear to be more common after the second vaccination rather than the first.

Common side effects are those reported in every 1 in 10 to 1 in 100 people. These include:

Uncommon side effects are those reported in every 1 in 100 to 1 in 1,000 people. These include:

It is important to note that blood clots are not a side effect listed. Blood clots have been associated with a different vaccination used overseas.

How long will the vaccination last and is it effective against new variants?

That is the big question and we do not yet know the answer. The studies so far show that there are good antibodies 6 months after Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination – and it is hoped that protection will last much longer. We will find out month by month as some of the original people vaccinated are followed up.

Some vaccinations to other diseases give lifelong protection – however we do not expect that we will achieve that length of immunity against COVID-19.

With new variants of COVID-19 emerging the most likely scenario is that we will need altered vaccinations to provide cover in future. From research in Israel and Qatar, it appears that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination is effective against the strains in circulation, including the UK and South African variants, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01222-5

Where can I find other good, trusted information about the vaccination?

Do not risk being exposed to fake news, because regrettably there is some still circulating. Remember, we are not recommending anything that we would not have ourselves. Always feel free to address any concerns you have with your Medplus doctor or nurse.

Head to trusted sites as suggested below.

https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-vaccines/covid-19-getting-vaccine

https://www.immune.org.nz/covid-19-vaccines

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/Pfizer-BioNTech.html