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As proud COVID Community Champions, Wolverhampton GP, Dr Amanda will be providing a regular guest blogpost on the ACCI website to educate the local community about COVID-19 and the vaccine.

Dr Amanda Chisholm

LONG TERM EFFECTS OF THE COVID VACCINE

“What will happen in 3, 5, 10 years from now?!”

“What if it shortens my lifespan?”

“How do you know it is safe?”

“It’s not been tested long enough! I’ll wait until there is more information”

“It’s too new!”

These are just a few of the very common statements I hear regarding the COVID- 19 vaccination. You may have said them yourself, and I’m pretty sure they have at least crossed your mind once or twice. These are expected concerns, and I hope to address them in this article.

Any medication or vaccine will have side effects that come along with it, not everyone will experience these and the severity will also differ from person to person. The most common side effects with the COVID vaccines are usually fleeting, less than 48 hours in most cases, with some lasting several days, they are usually managed well with simple pain relievers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen. They include a sore arm at the site of the injection, feeling achy, headache, tiredness, feeling or being sick and a fever. These are reported less commonly in those over 55 years of age and more commonly with the second dose.

There are however rarer but more severe and life threatening side effects associated with the vaccine- the first is a severe allergic reaction therefore if you have a history of allergy you must discuss this prior to receiving a vaccine. The second one we have discovered more recently since the vaccine became available to the public is, rare blood clots in a few people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

A common misconception first of all is that everything to do with these vaccines is new. This is not the case at all, vaccines on a whole have been around for decades (have a look at my first article “why do we need vaccines” for more information), and COVID 19 is from a group of viruses called the coronaviruses which have also been studied at length. The SARS virus in 2003 and the MERS virus in 2012 were both coronaviruses that were studied and vaccine technology developed on.

In the UK there are two classes of vaccines that we are using and both those technologies are not being used for the first time with the COVID- 19 virus. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccine are mRNA vaccines and have been studied for influenza, zika and rabies vaccines, as well as some cancer treatment. The AstraZeneca vaccine is a viral vector and this technology has been used since the 1970’s.

All this history and information works together to give us well founded predictions of the possible effects of the vaccine. However, it still remains that there are lots of things we continue to learn, for example how effective it is against variants and how long protection lasts. However, what we do know is that severe side effects are rare with vaccines and they will become evident within the first 2 months of administering the vaccine and not several years later. This is the pattern that has proven itself since the 1960’s and the most serious side effect from the COVID 19 vaccines- rare blood clots- has also followed this pattern.

During clinical trials it is unethical and impractical to test on millions of people and on every different type of person, so whenever a drug is disseminated to the general public more data is gathered and it continues to be monitored for information on effectiveness and safety. In the UK we do this via a yellow card system, an online system where anyone is able to report suspected side effects to any medicines, vaccines, or medical devices. It is regulated by the MHRA and any possible links are acted upon quickly. This was evident with the rare blood clots linked with AstraZeneca vaccine- information was disseminated quickly, altered guidelines to mitigate risk and further review is ongoing.

Now you might be thinking… “Okay, there might be a lot of historic data and systems in place to monitor any adverse effects, but I would still like some more information before I get mine.” To that I would say that I completely understand, however we must remember the situation that we are in, it’s an emergency, a pandemic and action must be taken now. We are so privileged to be living in 2021 where so much research and data that shapes modern medicine was collated tens and hundreds of years ago. During the 20th century so much novel medicine and treatment was introduced that a lot of the drugs and interventions we have now have had decades of testing. However, if we lived in 1920 that wouldn’t be the case, and when a new deadly virus travels at record speed around the world destroying our day to day life, once again we don’t have that luxury. The vaccine is our best chance of overcoming this virus and with new variants emerging, time is now more than ever of the essence. I also would love to have the 3, 5 or 10 year data at my fingertips before I make a decision, but I don’t want to see what our way of life is like or who survives to see it, if we wait that long before we do anything.

For information about Dr Amanda Chisolm, Wolverhampton GP, MBChB MRCGP:

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