Question: "I've heard people get blood clots from the vaccine and that vaccines are bad for pregnancy. And why bother getting vaccinated if the vaccine side-effects are worse?"
Many myths and misinformation are doing the rounds, and I am here to straighten some of the facts. Let's take some of the most common concerns and dig a little deeper into each one.
1. Children and young people are immune to getting sick from COVID-19 - FALSE
Even though young adults and children are less likely to be severely affected by COVID-19, they can still get very sick and die. The Delta variant also targets younger age groups, with more hospitalised with COVID-19 during the third wave than any other time during the pandemic. Remember that age is also not the only determining factor at play here. Co-morbidities such as diabetes and obesity are common conditions in young people and place people into a higher risk category. We are also seeing severe illness in patients who do not appear to have apparent co- morbidities. This age group has been a significant source of community spread during the third wave
2. The vaccine has been giving lots of people blood clots - FALSE
Blood clots have been reported in a small number of women (aged 18-49) after receiving the J&J vaccine, and it is considered a very rare side effect. These blood clots are referred to as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS). In an American study, only 8 cases of TTS occurred in 1 million cases of women being vaccinated. Since hundreds of people in this cohort were saved from death and thousands of them from hospitalisation, the benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh the risks.
3. The vaccine side-effects are worse than the disease itself - FALSE
This myth originates from the early days of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak before we knew what we were dealing with, and many people claimed COVID-19 was just like the "common cold or flu".
However, we have since learned that COVID-19 can have devastating and long-term effects on the human body and is responsible for over 80 000 deaths (people who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2) in South Africa. The mortality rate is likely much higher because South Africa has reported more than 250000 excess deaths since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. Besides the risk of death from COVID-19, we are becoming increasingly aware of the often long-term severe effects (long COVID) in people who have recovered from an infection.
The COVID-19 vaccines being used in SA have been administered widely. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide have received the J&J, and some 2 billion people have received the Pfizer. This means that we have unprecedented amounts of information on the side effects. Other than the commonly reported side effects, there have been very few reported cases of adverse side effects.
South Africa ran the Sisonke trial, where more than 250 000 people were vaccinated with the J&J, and more than 4 million people received the Pfizer, and there are very few confirmed reports of severe side effects.
4. If I've had COVID-19, then I don't need to get a vaccine – FALSE
Natural immunity (what happens when you have had COVID-19) and vaccine-derived immunity is not the same thing. The immunity you develop after infection will not protect you against new virus variants and will likely fade after a few months. The vaccine will cover you for longer than naturally-derived immunity. Just remember, if you have had COVID-19, you should wait at least four weeks after testing positive before getting a vaccine. This is to ensure you have completely recovered from the infection to ensure the vaccination is effective
5. The vaccine is dangerous for pregnant women – FALSE
As mentioned previously, the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for pregnant women following a clinical trial. Pregnant women have a substantially higher risk of developing severe illness, and worryingly, there is a risk of delivering premature babies. Please talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated.
You can read Part 1 of this myth-busting Straight Talk series here.