Covid-19: Vaccine Factsheet
This information has been fact checked by a UK doctor working with Covid-19 patients.
The UK has now approved 3 separate Covid-19 vaccines 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.
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 94% effective
- Oxford/AstraZeneca 90% effective (when administered as a half dose first, then full dose later)
- Moderna 95% effective
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.
What's going on with the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine?
Across the UK and EU, about 17 million people have received the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine. A small number of people (around 40) have reported blood clots.
This has resulted in some EU countries halting their roll outs (Germany, France, Italy and Spain). Vaccine safety experts from the World Health Organisation are currently reviewing the vaccine.
It is understandable that people may be concerned about using the Oxford Astra Zeneca 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?
Initial advice from vaccine developers suggested a 3-4 week gap between first and second doses. This gap has been increased to 3 months by the UK government in order to provide as many people with their first dose as fast as possible.
What is clear is that one dose is less effective than two.
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 principle of which 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
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 an 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, but to be safe, the NHS is not routinely offering them to pregnant people unless:
- you’re at high risk of getting Covid-19 because of where you work
- you have a health condition that means you're at high risk of serious complications of Covid-19
If you’ve already had a baby and are breastfeeding, it’s safe to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
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 resouces:
- The History Behind Vaccine Hesitancy
- Myth Busting; animation video busting common Covid-19 vaccine myths
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.