How to cope with coronavirus vaccine anxiety
This week we finally got some much-needed good news. A glimmer of light at the end of the long, dark tunnel that has been 2020.
The Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine trials have proved 90% effective in early trials, and the UK has already ordered 40 million doses – enough to vaccinate up to 20 million people.
Experts have warned that the data from the trials conducted by Pfizer and BioNTech are not final, and there remain plenty of unknowns. But nonetheless, the idea of a potential solution to this global crisis has many people feeling optimistic.
But, as with any breakthroughs in medicine and science, there are also worries.
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Some people are significantly concerned about the speed at which this vaccine has been produced, and worried about the fact that we won’t know the long-term effects – potentially until it is too late.
But are these anxieties founded? Is there a reason to be cautious? Or is this kind of vaccine anxiety dangerous? Could it prevent vulnerable people from getting the protection from coronavirus that they desperately need?
Jenny*, who lives in London, says she has always been very pro vaccines, but she has to admit that she feels nervous about the speed at which the Covid-19 vaccine has been produced.
‘I completely understand that a vaccine will be incredible for elderly and vulnerable people who will be able to go about their everyday lives again, and will be a step in the right direction for getting things “back to normal”,’ she tells us. ‘However, I do have some concerns around it so am a little reluctant to get it immediately.
‘I’m mainly worried about the long-term effects of the vaccine and the fact that we know nothing about them.
‘Being young and healthy, I doubt I’ll qualify for a vaccine immediately anyway, and after we learn more about I’m sure this anxiety will settle for me and I’ll happily get one (just like I’ve had all kinds of other vaccinations).
‘So, perhaps by the time they start vaccinating my age group, I’ll feel a lot better about it.’
Emma*, from Manchester, is similarly nervous. She says she doesn’t like the idea of the risks, but she is torn because she wants life to go back to normal.
‘It’s hard because it’s clear that a vaccination could be the only way to get us out of this endless cycles of lockdowns and restrictions, but I just feel so nervous about injecting myself with something that is brand new,’ says Emma.
‘We have already seen how governments around the world have got their responses to Covid wrong on so many levels. And there are so many inequalities, with ethnic minorities at a higher risk of death. Who says it won’t be the same with a vaccine?
‘I worry for myself and for my children and my older family members. The idea of us all marching up to get this vaccine because the government recommends it, that doesn’t sit well with me.’
If you’re feeling nervous about the possibility of a coronavirus vaccine, you are not alone.
We asked Parvinder Sagoo, director and head pharmacist at Simply Meds Online, to explain a bit more about the mechanics of the vaccine, how it might work, and to asses the potential risks.
How will the Covid-19 vaccination work?
‘Scientists will take part of the virus’ genetic code, which essentially tells the cells what to build, and then coat it in a lipid (fat) so that it can enter the body’s cells easily,’ explains Parvinder. ‘This is then injected into the patient, and the vaccine enters the patients cells and promotes them to produce part of the coronavirus within them.’
Parvinder explains that a patient’s immune system responds by producing antibodies for coronavirus and activates special white blood cells, called T-cells, to destroy any infection.
‘So, if the patient contracts coronavirus, they have the right antibodies and white blood cells ready to fight the virus,’ he adds.
What are the risks of the Covid-19 vaccination?
There are always certain risks with vaccines. Parvinder says there are currently no other RNA vaccines that have been approved for use in humans, and so it is incredibly important that scientists are able to ensure that this vaccine is safe for public use.
‘The data on this particular vaccine is reassuring as trials on over 43,000 people have shown that there are minimal to no safety concerns, however mild side effects have been noted in a few patients,’ he explains.
‘Vaccines that cause dangerous side effects do not get signed off for safe use, however some really rare side effects may only show once millions of people start to become immunised. This is the same with all vaccines.’
And what of the speed at which it is has been produced? Parvinder doesn’t think this is a cause for concern.
‘The world’s top scientists and medical experts have been working day and night on this vaccine,’ he says, ‘and the speed at which it has been developed is simply due to the urgency of the situation.
‘There is no need to be worried at how quickly it has been produced, if it wasn’t safe it would simply not pass tests and the data would show many more side effects.’
However, he does concede that, as with any vaccine, there is always the risk of potential rarer side effects emerging down the line, especially as more and more people have the vaccine.
‘However, it is important to look at the figures in assessing how safe and effective a vaccine is,’ he explains.
‘Of course, if a vaccine is released into the public and it has not passed certain checks or met certain criteria, or indeed the numbers show that a significant amount of people have experienced unwanted side effects which are rare and more severe, then this is of course worrying and the vaccine will be considered for revision.
‘Scientists and various government bodies across the globe will be working closely together to ensure that this doesn’t happen, and will largely make decisions based on the data which is coming out of vaccine testing before it is released.
‘That’s the important part, it’s all data driven decision making. If the data doesn’t exist then the vaccine will not come to market in the first place.’
Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
Parvinder is clear on this one – yes, he thinks the benefits of this vaccine largely outweigh the risks.
‘Again, when we look at the data, we can see that the only side effects to come out of this vaccine thus far are mild and few and far between, so there is a very small chance of any serious long term side effects,’ he says.
‘Secondly it will allow activities to resume, with the guarantee that patients are immune.’
Will I be able to get a vaccine straight away?
The UK government has ordered 90 million vaccines and each person will need two doses, three weeks apart to guarantee immunity. So, around 45 million patients should be able to get treated in the coming few months.
‘Making a vaccine is a bit more difficult than a tablet or liquid and each batch of vaccine will need quality checking before it is allowed to got to market,’ says Parvinder.
‘So anticipate a few months for this to be ironed out before you are able to receive one.
‘Secondly, the vaccine in it’s current state needs to be stored in -80oc. The current infrastructure (doctors surgeries, hospitals and pharmacies) is built to store vaccines at between 2-8oc.
‘Therefore, unless Pfizer develop a way to store the vaccine in the normal temperature range, only specialised clinics will be able to store and administer the vaccine.
‘Hopefully we will know soon enough and getting the vaccine will be as easy as visiting your pharmacy.’
As with any medical treatment, you’re own individual circumstances need to be taken into account.
If you have particular concerns about your health or a possible vaccine, speak to your GP as they will be able to give your personalised advice that consider your unique needs.
If you are struggling with anxiety or worrying to the point that it is impacting your daily life, speak to your GP or reach out to mental health services for additional support.
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