FAQs: Virologist Answers Questions from the ‘Vaccine-Hesitant’

“The risk from the vaccine is much less than the risk from COVID,” says virologist Dr Shahid Jameel.

Updated

Can I trust the safety of a COVID vaccine?

Does everyone really need to take it?

Can I wait for 6 months, and see its effects on other people before I decide?

Vaccine news has been the light at the end of the tunnel for most of us. But there are still a few sceptics,  who believe in the science of vaccines but aren't quite convinced about a COVID vaccine. FIT asks virologist Dr Shahid Jameel some of the most common questions to help quell our anxieties over the covid vaccine.

The vaccine is out way too soon - it’s been developed in record time, it’s the fasted ever in the history of the world. How do I know they didn’t just rush through under political pressure?

“We are looking at history,” says Dr Jameel. “This is the first time ever a global pandemic will end due to vaccines. They have been developed very fast, but that is because of a few reasons. Number 1, usually vaccines are developed sequentially, which means once each phase is over, the next phase begins. For the COVID vaccine, many phase 1 trials began while animal testing was going on, and many phase 1 and phase 2 trials happened simultaneously to speed things up.” Does this mean safety checks were ignored?

“No,” says Dr Jameel, “but the regulatory approval between phases that used to take months now was happening in days. The safety and efficacy of a vaccine will depend on the human immune system, and that remains the same, so only processes have been sped up.”

“Yes the anxiety is real because we have never experienced this before but I can say no safety corners have been cut. You can’t lose faith in vaccines, they are the most economical public health measure”
Dr Shahid Jameel, virologist and Director, Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University

How can we be sure the vaccine will be a reliable and safe cure? Maybe I’ll just wait for six months and see how everyone else reacts before I get the vaccine?

Dr Jameel: “Sure, it’s a personal choice, but the effect of the vaccine won’t reduce in 6 months. You have to determine for yourself if the cost of getting infected by COVID is lower than the cost of getting the vaccine. If you are in two minds because of the safety issue, that is a fear that is misplaced. The question is: Should you wait for 2 years because you are prone to COVID today if you go out, go to work, go to restaurants - you are always prone we are in the middle of a pandemic.”

I don’t really need to get it - maybe the rest of the 60 per cent can get the vaccine and provide me herd immunity?

Dr Jameel: “What’s the guarantee that you won’t get it? Sweden tried this, they wanted to achieve herd immunity as a country but now their hospitals and ICU’s are full. This virus is bad because you may survive the virus but the aftereffects it leaves on your systems is not something we fully understand yet. The risk from the vaccine is much less than the risk from COVID.”

FAQs: Virologist Answers Questions from the ‘Vaccine-Hesitant’
(Photo: iStockphoto)

I keep going out, I am sure I had COVID-19 in the past, I don’t really need the vaccine

Dr Jameel: “There is merit to that argument because a vaccine will not give you better immunity than natural infection. My advice is to get an antibody test and if you are antibody positive don’t take the vaccine.”

There have been so many drugs and treatments- like HCQ or plasma therapy - that have claimed to help but have been recalled later. So how do I trust this vaccine?

Dr Jameel: There is a big difference between the drugs recalled and the vaccines. None of the drugs - be it Hydroxychloroquine or Remdesivir were tested in a double-blind manner or against a control so we never knew about their efficacy. And when control trials took place, they fell apart. For vaccines, they have all been tested and are being tested in a double-blind, controlled manner, so we can be aware of their efficacy and safety before they are released.

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