The following is a transcript of Kashmir Observer’s facebook live interview with Dr Khawar Achakzai, Registrar General Medicine, SMHS moderated by Tooba Towfiq
How effective are vaccines?
Covaxin and Covishield vaccines are mainly being used in South Asia. In Kashmir, the Covishield vaccine is being used. It has been developed by AstraZeneca. In India, it is being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII) using the same formula.
Covishield vaccine introduces the spike protein of the coronavirus in the body of a person using a weakened virus. It triggers a response from the immune system of the person that secretes antibodies against the coronavirus. The immune system then responds by secreting antibodies against the coronavirus at other times also, therefore, protecting against the intact coronavirus.
The vaccine has substantially protected people against hospitalization, against severe infections and deaths.
When you take the first shot, there is 30-40% protection against severe infection. It takes 3-4 weeks for the same. After the second jab, there is 70-90% protection against severe infections and again it takes four weeks.
However, this does not mean that a person who has been vaccinated will not contract the virus. They might but the severity of the infection and their chances of dying will be less. They might contract the virus but their chances of spreading the virus to other people also decrease.
There are only two things in the hands of the common people by which they can protect themselves, their family and their community against Covid-19, and those are vaccines and masks.
Who can get vaccinated?
Guidelines around the world have made all people above 18 years of age eligible for vaccines.
Some age groups for which vaccines become more important are those above the age of 60 and those above 45 years with comorbidities and other conditions.
In the first phase, only doctors and high-risk cases were eligible.
For the second phase, guidelines were relaxed.
In the third phase that starts from 1st May 2021, all above 18 years of age have been advised to take the vaccine.
Who cannot get vaccinated? Are there any people who would have to consult a doctor before getting vaccinated?
People with diabetes, hypertension and any other chronic disease should get vaccinated on a priority basis.
People who would have to consult a doctor before getting vaccinated:
- People who are less than 18 years of age.
- These vaccines have not been tested in pregnancy and lactating mothers, they should first consult their physician or gynaecologist.
- People who are allergic to any medicines.
- People who have active Covid infection. They should wait at least 4-8 weeks after their symptoms of Covid subside.
- People who have received plasma for Covid. They should also wait.
- Patients with less platelet count should first consult their doctor.
What is the time gap between the first and the second jab of Covishield?
The gap has been extended from 4-6 weeks previously to 6-8 weeks. It has been seen that when the gap is from 6-8 weeks, it gives protection of 90-100% against severe infections.
Is it compulsory to get the second dose of the vaccine?
The first dose only gives 30-40% against the severe infection. These doses are complimentary. If you want the vaccine to realise the full potential and get maximum protection, the second dose is compulsory.
Some people are also very apprehensive of taking the vaccine because of the news of very rare instances of side effects like blood clots. Could you please address that?
All the medications come with side effects. As far as the blood clots are concerned, AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been received by millions of people and there are just some hundreds of people who reported blood clotting. People who reported blood clotting were predisposed to clotting and they already had conditions present in their bodies that made them more susceptible to clotting. The incidents of clots in the AstraZeneca vaccine are 4 per one million, which is a minuscule number. Now compare it with the people who contract the Covid virus, what are the odds of getting a clot? The odds of getting a clot in a patient who has contracted the Covid virus is 3 to7 per 100. The comparisons have to be made between the risk of getting a clot that is 4 per million or the risk of getting a clot that is 3 to7 per hundred.
Now after May 1, even people above the age of 18 can get the vaccine but with that, a lot of people are apprehensive of getting the vaccine. Are vaccines safe for people under 45 or under 30?
Of course. Research bodies advice for vaccination after conducting studies. They make suggestions based on data. Please read about the benefits of vaccination yourself and do not pay heed to rumours.
This is the right time to take the vaccine because right now we are moving towards the peak and we are anticipating that this peak might be somewhere around the end of May. So you still have the chance that you take a vaccine and you have enough or at least partial immunity against the virus until the peak comes.
A lot of people have been saying the vaccine will cause infertility and that the vaccine will affect the menstrual cycle of women. Would you like to shed a light on that?
I think these are just rumours. I have my female patients who have been vaccinated. I have my colleagues, young female doctors as young as 25-26 years old who have been vaccinated. I have females in my own family, I have my close relatives, I have my sister and I have my mother. All of them have been vaccinated. I say that all of these things are hearsay; all of these things are rumours which are unnecessarily being blown out of proportion. You should not believe in these things and you should go for it.
A lot of people, especially youngsters think that they can buy time and wait for better vaccines? Are there any better vaccines and should we wait for them?
We are in a pandemic. It does not give time for better vaccines or to build new hospitals. Whatever we have in our hands right now is better.
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