Your COVID-19 vaccine questions, answered

How does alcohol intake, the food you eat, and the painkillers you take affect the COVID-19 immunisation process? Find the answers here

Published - April 30, 2021 04:07 pm IST

Coimbatore Tamil Nadu 23/04/2021: Covishield vaccine vial at the COVID-19 vaccination camp in Coimbatore on Friday April 23, 2021. Photo: Periasamy M/ The Hindu.

Coimbatore Tamil Nadu 23/04/2021: Covishield vaccine vial at the COVID-19 vaccination camp in Coimbatore on Friday April 23, 2021. Photo: Periasamy M/ The Hindu.

Do young people experience more side effects from the COVID jab? What painkillers are okay to take? How long does the vaccine immunity last? As the age limit for getting the COVID vaccine is lowered to 18 from May 1 onwards, we asked infection specialists to answer your concerns surrounding it.

Dr Gagandeep Kang FRS is a virologist and a professor in the Department of Gastrointestinal Sciences at the Christian Medical College, Vellore, India.

Dr Chandrakant Lahariya is an epidemiologist and public health specialist, who recently authored the book, Till We Win: India’s Fight Against The Covid-19 Pandemic, along with Dr Kang .

Dr Soumya Swaminathan , known for her research on tuberculosis and HIV, is the Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization.

I am experiencing terrible headaches and body pains after getting the vaccine. Is it okay to take painkillers? What painkillers are okay to take, in what dosage?

GK: About one-quarter to one-third of all people who receive SARS-CoV2 vaccines have some side effects. These include fever, headaches, body ache and fatigue. These symptoms usually last not more than a couple of days. Lie down, rest, and take plenty of liquids.

It is okay to take painkillers such as paracetamol for these side effects, up to three times per day. Stop taking it or reduce it as your symptoms subside.

CL: If the pain is very severe, especially headache, and if it lasts longer, then inform the healthcare facility where you got vaccinated. You should also consider checking with their physicians or any doctor nearby. It is not advisable to take any ‘prescription drug’ for such situations.

Does the vaccine have any gender- or age-related effect? After getting the vaccine, my mother-in-law and my mother showed a lot of pain, but my father and father-in-law did not.

GK: For some of the widely used COVID-19 vaccines for which data is available, it appears that women show more side effects than men. This has actually been noted for other vaccines, such as influenza, as well. It is possible and plausible, based on data from human and animal studies, that hormones may play a role in the side effects that each person experiences. We do not know yet whether this applies to all vaccines or some vaccines.

Is it also true that young people experience more side effects?

CL: You need to remember that this is only a comparative response. As an example, two COVID-19 vaccines, Oxford AstraZeneca and Pfizer have shown to have slightly higher rates of adverse events in the younger population. As such, these adverse events are always at a low rate and this risk is far lower than the benefits offered by these vaccines.

KARNATAKA : BENGALURU : 29/04/2021 : Women receiving vaccine at K C Genral Hospital in Bengaluru on Thursday 29 April 2021. PHOTO : SUDHAKARA JAIN / THE HINDU.

KARNATAKA : BENGALURU : 29/04/2021 : Women receiving vaccine at K C Genral Hospital in Bengaluru on Thursday 29 April 2021. PHOTO : SUDHAKARA JAIN / THE HINDU.

Are the side effects a sign of the vaccine working? What does having no side effects at all mean then?

GK: The side effects are a sign that the vaccine is inducing a biological response, but it is not necessary to have side effects for the vaccine to work. Everyone reacts to infection and vaccination in different ways and some people show more reactions than others.

CL: The adverse events are dependent upon multiple factors such as age, allergy to any component of the vaccine, or just a normal reaction. A few vaccines use adjuvant to improve the immunogenicity of the vaccines, which helps in improved protection. Though these components are usually very safe; in rare cases, a few individuals may report adverse events. Similarly, a trace of antibiotics is present in some vaccines, used for various reasons including increasing the shelf life. Some individuals may have reaction to these trace antibiotics. In vaccine development, every effort is made to ensure that there is no component which results in allergic reaction, however, as each individual acts differently, it is not possible to exclude that probability.

Why are we being advised not to take non vegetarian food for a day or two after the vaccine?

GK: There is no reason to change our diet following vaccination. The possible reason why advice on not eating non vegetarian food is given might be because some kinds of meat (red and processed meat) may induce a low level of inflammation. However, there is no data to indicate that eating non vegetarian food changes the response to the vaccine.

Does drinking alcohol after getting the jab reduce its effectiveness?

GK: Drinking alcohol to excess also leads to inflammation. However, there is no data to indicate that drinking alcohol after getting vaccinated reduces the effectiveness of the vaccine.

My relative developed COVID-19 10 days after we got the vaccine together. Is there a chance that he can spread the infection to me?

CL: An individual is protected only two weeks after the completed schedule. The completed schedule for COVID-19 vaccines in India is two jabs at the recommended interval. Therefore, your relative getting an infection 10 days after the first jab is very similar to someone who has not received the vaccine. In fact, we know that COVID-19 vaccines prevent a severe form of disease and mortality. A fully vaccinated person can still develop an infection; however, that is more likely to be asymptomatic or mild.

A fully vaccinated person can also transmit the infection to another healthy person. That’s why even after vaccination COVID appropriate behaviours of face mask, physical distancing, and hand washing should be followed.

How long will immunity last from vaccines? Considering there are so many variants now, why should I get vaccinated now? Why shouldn’t I wait?

SS: We are learning something every day, from all the different clinical trials of the vaccines that have been undertaken, especially those that are now approved for use. What we’ve seen so far is that a majority of the vaccines are extremely effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalisation, and death. We must also remember that the more people get vaccinated and build up their immunity against the virus, the less the chances of the virus replicating, growing, increasing, and spreading from person to person, and thereby we are actually reducing the chances of more mutations and more variants.

KOCHI; Kerala; 29/04/2021: People waiting for vaccine at General Hospila in the city. Photo : Thulasi Kakkat

KOCHI; Kerala; 29/04/2021: People waiting for vaccine at General Hospila in the city. Photo : Thulasi Kakkat

After I got vaccinated, I did not experience major side effects. But two weeks after that, I developed an upset stomach, though I have only eaten at home. Is this a delayed side effect of the vaccine? How many days later can the side effects show up?

GK: Usually, side effects of the vaccine manifest themselves in the first few days after vaccination. It is very unlikely that your upset stomach is due to the vaccination.

The only side effect that we know so far that may appear later (and this is not completely confirmed yet) is the risk of clotting with a low platelet count, a very rare side effect that may occur between 4 and 20 days after vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

CL: Since all COVID-19 vaccines are new to use, their safety profile of adverse events is still evolving. Reporting of such events to healthcare facilities is logical and that will be your contribution to promoting vaccine science.

Does this mean we are part of a clinical trial — in which case, is there any legal ramifications for the companies testing them?

CL: No. Only those participating in various phases of studies are part of clinical trial. However, as the follow up period in most clinical trials is limited, the delayed side effects may not be identified. Which is why, the reporting of adverse event by healthcare providers and those receiving those drugs and vaccines, is considered integral part of understanding the adverse event profile. Most regulatory authorities require manufacturers to collect this information up to two years of the licensing of drugs and vaccines in any population and submit to the regulatory bodies. This is termed as ‘post marketing surveillance’.

Is there a chance that if I go out to get vaccinated, I may receive a placebo?

CL: There is no chance one would get a placebo. In the ongoing vaccination program, everyone is getting COVID-19 vaccines. The placebos are administered in clinical trials only.

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