Covid-19 Vaccine Factsheet [updated]

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Purple background with abstract shapes on either side of image in coral and light purple. On opposite corners of the image sits an illustration. Left hand side is a doctor in uniform carrying a giant test tube filled with liquid directed at a virus. On the right hand side is an mage of a nurse kicking a giant virus. In the centre is a circular graphic with a tick box in the middle and the text fact checked around it twice.

This information has been fact checked by a UK doctor working with Covid-19 patients. 

The UK has now approved 4 separate Covid-19 vaccines (3 of these are already available, 1 will be available later this year) that protect against the virus. 

These vaccines are being distributed rapidly, but people justifiably have questions about what they are and how they work.

What’s in the Covid-19 vaccines? 

Each of the three vaccines approved in the UK are different, and use separate techniques to protect your body against Covid-19. 

  • Pfizer/BioNTech - this vaccine uses new technology to protect against Covid-19 using a molecule called mRNA. This might sound like it affects DNA, but actually, mRNA vaccines work by teaching our cells to make a protein that triggers an immune response. In this case, one that fights Covid19. 
    • Misinformation has circulated online that mRNA vaccines affect human DNA, this is untrue. For full information on how they work click here.
  • Oxford/AstraZeneca - this vaccine works in a more traditional way. It contains a weakened version of the common cold that has been altered to look more like coronavirus. This means when someone is injected, their body develops defenses that work against Covid-19. If this person later becomes infected, their body already knows how to fight the disease.
  • Moderna - the Moderna vaccine works similarly to the Pfizer one: through mRNA. It teaches the body’s cells to make a spike protein which the immune system then recognises and learns to attack. This means  if you become infected with Covid-19, your body is prepared.
  • The Janssen vaccine has also been approved and is due to be available later this year (2021). 

Learn more about how the Covid-19 vaccines work through the Vaccine Knowledge Project. 

How effective are the vaccines?

Based on the scientific studies of tens of thousands of people, the above vaccines have been found to be extremely effective at preventing Covid-19 infection.

  • Pfizer/BioNTech 90% effective
  • Oxford/AstraZeneca 91% effective (when administered as a half dose first, then full dose later)
  • Moderna 94% effective (staring 14 days after first dose)

Why do we need a booster jab?

Whilst the vaccines have been proven to be effective, we know that the protection you get from the Covid-19 vaccine reduces over time (especially in older people who are at greatest risk). 

This is why it’s recommended that people get a booster jab 6 months after their second dose, especially those who are older (50+) or in another priority category.

To understand more about the booster vaccine, click here or go here to book yours. Learn more about the booster jab here. 

Are the vaccines safe?

In short: yes. All vaccines go through a rigorous process of clinical trials to make sure that they are safe for use in humans. This means testing tens of thousands of injected patients and monitoring their health to closely measure the effects.

This doesn’t mean that the risk is zero. Any medicine carries with it potential side effects. Even common drugs like paracetamol, ibuprofen, and antidepressants can all cause side effects in people like nausea, headaches or dizziness.

So far, millions of people in the UK have been vaccinated, and no long term complications have been reported in any cases.

Fatalities from vaccines are extremely rare and online, there is lots of misreporting about deaths. Take for instance, this totally false claim that 53 people in Gibraltar died after being vaccinated. 

Will the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine cause blood clots?

Across the UK and EU, about 17 million people have received the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. A small number of people (around 40) have reported blood clots.

It is understandable that people may be concerned about using the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine given these reports. However, regulators in the UK and Europe are clear that vaccination should continue.

The current evidence suggests that the chance of a blood clot after vaccination is very low. In comparison, the risk from Covid-19 to those currently being offered the vaccine is significantly higher. 

Does waiting for the second dose make it less effective?

The three vaccines currently available in the UK are all designed to work across two doses. Having two doses leads to a stronger, better immune response from your body and a longer-lasting protection. What is clear is that one dose is less effective than two, and it's important everyone gets both doses. 

How did they make them so quickly?

In the past, vaccines have taken nearly a decade to create. There are many reasons for this, the main one is the highly bureaucratic process of getting trials approved and implemented.

As a global emergency, Covid-19 has brought together the world’s best scientists and pharmaceutical companies in an unprecedented effort. The speed of vaccine development has been a response to the scale of the problem.

Scientists also had a head start on Covid-19 because of previous research done on Sars and Mers viruses, which are similar to Covid. This meant scientists knew that the virus’s achilles heel was the ‘spike protein’ it uses to attach to cells. 

We’ve also been able to deliver vaccines quickly because companies were mass producing a wide variety of them from early 2020, so that if any turned out to be effective, immunisation could start immediately.

Corners have not been cut in terms of vaccine development - the world came together to make the production as efficient as possible.

Are racialised people being prioritised? 

Right now, the government is prioritising vaccines for vulnerable groups, but racialised people have not been included in this list. The current order is as follows:

  1. Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
  2. Those aged 80 and over and frontline health and social care workers
  3. Those aged 75 and over 
  4. Those aged 70 and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals
  5. Those aged 65 and over
  6. All individuals aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality 
  7. Those aged 60 and over 
  8. Those aged 55 years and over
  9. Those aged 50 years of age and over
  10. Rest of the population

Racialised communities have been harder hit by Covid-19 than other groups, and there are current campaigns and calls within the scientific community to add racialised people to the priority list.

Are they carrying out more trials on Black people or on all racialised people?

In the UK, volunteer participants for vaccine trials have been disproportionately white. According to a report in October 2020, of 270,000 vaccine volunteers, only 11,000 were Asian and 1,200 were Black. This means that around 4.5% of volunteers were ethnic minority people, compared to 14% among the general population of the UK.

There are calls for more studies that focus specifically on vaccine efficacy in racialised people. If you’d like to participate in research in the UK, you can apply through the NHS portal.

Can you take it if you have an allergy?

Most people with allergies relate to food: nuts, dairy products and so forth. In these cases, the Covid-19 vaccine should be safe to take.

If you’ve experienced a previous allergic reaction to components of the Pfizer, Moderna, or Astrazeneca vaccines, then it may be advised that you don’t take it. Vaccines are complex, and only a medical professional can tell you whether this applies to you.

When you’re vaccinated, you will be asked questions about your medical history to ensure that it’s safe to administer. 

For more detailed information, read this guide.

Can you take it if you're pregnant?

There is yet no evidence that the Covid-19 vaccines are unsafe for pregnant people.

New data shows that a disproportionate number of Covid-19 related hospitalisations are unvaccinated pregnant women. aa The vaccines offer pregnant women the best protection against the Covid-19 disease which can be serious in later pregnancy for some women.

If you’ve already had a baby and are breastfeeding, it’s safe to get the Covid-19 vaccine. Researchers believe breastfeeding women who have been infected with Covid-19 continue to pass on antibodies into their milk for up to 10 months. 

Conclusion

It’s important that vaccine hesitancy among racialised communities is acknowledged within the long historical context of racial health inequality. 

Minority ethnic people still face unequal healthcare in the UK and beyond, and distrust of government or medical institutions should not be treated with derision, but rather, with open and frank conversation. 

You may also be interested in our further resources:

At Spark & Co we will be keeping the conversation going over the coming weeks, as well as providing reliable, clear information from trusted sources.

Keep checking our website, and social media accounts, for continued updates on Covid-19, what support is available, and how we as racialised people can engage with the challenges of our changed world.