Your remaining COVID-19 vaccine questions, answered

Your remaining COVID-19 vaccine questions, answered

With St. Maarten’s current free vaccination programme coming to a close at the end of July, many people still have doubts and questions – and that’s normal. An incredible amount of false or confusing information makes the rounds, and it becomes hard to tell what is true and what isn’t. Some have opted to “wait and see,” but since you can’t wait forever and still have access to free, 95 per cent effective Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines on a convenient walk-in basis, there’s really no time like the present to get answers to any remaining burning questions.

The Vaccine Management Team (VMT), as part of its outreach programme, has held information sessions with around 60 organisations. A key part of the programme’s success was that members and employees were able to personally hear from medical professionals, express what was on their minds, and ask specific questions.

The Weekender reached out to VMT to get some answers to some of the most prevalent questions we still hear all around.

How was the vaccine developed so quickly?

This is an excellent question because it usually takes about five to 10 years to develop a vaccine, while the vaccines that we have now were developed in roughly one year.

There are a couple of reasons for this, though. The first one is money. It usually takes a long time to generate the necessary funding for a project like this. But due to the worldwide pandemic, money was made available by governments and large organisations straight away.

Secondly, recruiting sufficient volunteers for the clinical trials (44,000 persons from all over the world) is a very timely process. However, again, due to the worldwide pandemic, the volunteers were lining up.

Thirdly, to speed up the process, most pharmaceutical companies executed the different clinical phases almost simultaneously where it happens typically sequential. It’s important to note that no steps were skipped, and the rules for approval by the European Medicine Agency (EMA) are always the same. So, the approved coronavirus COVID-19 vaccines are just as safe as any other vaccine on the market, the ones we give our children and which we take when we are travelling.

The last main factor is worldwide scientific collaboration. Normally, pharmaceutical organisations keep their knowledge and data to themselves. However, now, scientists worldwide shared their knowledge, data, and experience, which dramatically sped up the process.

Why do I still have to wear a mask if I’m vaccinated?

Another very good question. You are still asked to wear a mask even after you’re vaccinated because the vaccine (Pfizer) is 95 per cent effective. While this is incredibly high compared to most vaccines that are roughly 60-70 per cent effective, it is not 100 per cent and, therefore, never guaranteed that you can’t get infected with COVID-19.

So, the chance of getting infected with COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated is only 5 per cent. This also means that the chance of infecting others when you are fully vaccinated is also reduced by 95 per cent. And lastly, in the slight chance (5 per cent) that you still happen to be infected by the coronavirus, the vaccine also protects you against the severe side effects and hospitalisation.

So, you might wonder: If the chances are so low, why do I still have to wear a mask? This is because the number of active COVID cases is still too high, and the numbers of fully vaccinated persons are still too low. So, for now, that 5 per cent chance is still too high a risk for our society.

However, if enough persons get vaccinated, likely, you don’t have to wear your masks anymore because the island would then be sufficiently protected. And we see this already happening on islands like Saba and Aruba.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

Almost all vaccines and medication can have side effects. (Ever looked at the back of your medicine box?). And side effects are a good thing because it is a sign that your immune system responds to the vaccine and will start to produce antibodies to protect you against COVID-19.

The side effects that persons have experienced with the Pfizer vaccine are pain at the injection site, headache, tiredness, muscle pain, and fever/chills. It’s very individual how people experience side effects. Some don’t feel anything at all, and others can be out for a day or two. However, the common factor is that all side effects subside after one, two, or sometimes three days.

How long are the vaccines effective?

Vaccines differ a lot in how long they provide protection. This depends on the type of vaccine, and for a large part, of the kind of virus or disease it protects against. We know now that the first persons who took the vaccine in the clinical trials one year ago still show to have high levels of antibodies, which indicate that they are still protected against the COVID-19 virus. This means that we know that the vaccine is effective for at least one year. Quite possibly longer, but more time will have to pass to find out how much longer.

Is it true that AstraZeneca causes blood clots? Wouldn’t that mean that others can too?

It is observed that a minimal number of persons developed blood clots after taking the AstraZeneca vaccine. The chances of developing blood clots are 0.001 per cent, and the chances of dying as a result are 0.00005 per cent.

To put this into perspective, you are more likely to be struck by lightning than to develop blood clots due to vaccination, and when you fly, you increase the chance of developing blood clots by 2-10 per cent.

The EMA has re-approved the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine because the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the minimal risks. We know that the COVID-19 virus can have deadly consequences for elderly persons and those with underlying health conditions.

Still, the different variants have put younger people in the hospital too. Additionally, it is now concluded that COVID-19 poses a significant risk for pregnant women and their unborn children.

And lastly, and most importantly, 10-20 per cent of the persons who’ve been infected with COVID-19 develop what is now called long-term COVID. This means that months after the initial infection, persons still can’t taste or smell, are frequently tired, or develop mental problems.

Taking this all into consideration, the EMA concluded that the benefits of the vaccine, which is adequate protection against the COVID-19 virus, far outweigh the minimal chance of developing blood clots. The same goes for the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine, which has had similar incidents.

However, vaccines based on mRNA technology like Pfizer & Moderna do not have these complications because they are developed differently. So, the Pfizer vaccine that we have on the island right now has not reported any blood clots after vaccination.

Why does the government want us to get vaccinated if I am ok taking the risk myself?

The government aims to get as many persons as possible vaccinated because it is what’s best for our society. One only has to look back at the last 1.5 years to realise the impact of the COVID-19 virus.

Thirty persons have died due to COVID-19, and many have been infected, of which 10-20 per cent are now struggling with long-term COVID. We’ve been through a rough lockdown, which disrupted our way of living, and our tourism-based economy took a big hit when travel wasn’t possible anymore. This resulted in the loss of many jobs and the fact that one-third of the island now depends on food packages to survive.

As we can see worldwide, sufficient protection against the COVID-19 virus in the form of vaccination is the only way out of this scenario. Countries as Israel, Saba, and now Aruba show that life CAN return to normal, but only if enough persons get vaccinated.

We all want to travel again, stop wearing our masks, being able to hug our loved ones again, welcome tourists back to our island, and celebrate Carnival again. Vaccination is the only way to do so.

Vaccines are safe, and work with your immune system so your body will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed. Register online. Walk-in vaccinations are also available on weekdays at Belair Community Center from 9:00am to 3:00pm (now extended to 8:00pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays), and at the Vineyard Building from 8:30am to 4:00pm. Keep an eye on the newspaper for the announcement of pop-up locations!