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South Africa is rolling out its national COVID-19 vaccine programme, which aims to vaccinate 40 million South Africans. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends you get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as one is available to you, however, Covid-19 vaccinations are not mandatory in South Africa. It remains each individual’s choice to seek this medical treatment.
The following information is made available by the South African Department of Health.
Vaccination is a simple, safe, and effective way to protect people against harmful diseases, before they come into contact with them. It uses your body’s natural defences to build resistance to specific infections and makes your immune system stronger.
Vaccines train your immune system to create antibodies, just as it does when it is exposed to a disease.
When you get a vaccine, your immune system responds. It:
If you are then exposed to the germ in the future, your immune system can quickly destroy it before you become unwell.
However, because vaccines contain only killed or weakened forms of germs like viruses or bacteria, they do not cause the disease or put you at risk of its complications.
Scientists around the world are developing many potential vaccines for COVID-19. These vaccines are all designed to teach the body’s immune system to safely recognise and block the virus that causes COVID-19.
Several different types of potential vaccines for COVID-19 are in development, including:
Vaccines for different diseases can be administered in different ways. All the COVID-19 vaccines are given through an injection in the arm.
COVID-19 vaccines protect you from severe illness and death from the virus by helping the body develop immunity. They may also help reduce the spread of the virus between people, so one person’s choice to get vaccinated could save many more lives.
COVID-19 vaccines are a key tool in ending the pandemic and getting societies back to normal. Mass vaccination campaigns should also help reduce the pressure on health workers and hospitals, allowing them to attend to patients with other conditions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends you get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as one is available to you.
Two key reasons to get vaccinated are to protect ourselves and to protect those around us. Because not everyone can be vaccinated – including very young babies, those who are seriously ill or have certain allergies – they depend on others being vaccinated to ensure they are also safe from vaccine-preventable diseases.
When a person gets vaccinated against a disease, their risk of infection is also reduced – so they are far less likely to spread the disease to others. As more people in a community get vaccinated, fewer people remain vulnerable, and there is less possibility for passing the germ on from person to person. Lowering the possibility for a germ to circulate in the community protects those who cannot be vaccinated due to other serious health conditions. This is called “herd immunity.”
“Herd immunity” exists when a high percentage of the population is vaccinated, making it difficult for infectious diseases to spread, because there are not many people who can be infected. But herd immunity only works if most people are vaccinated.
There are strict protections in place to help ensure the safety of all COVID-19 vaccines.
Before receiving authorisation from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), COVID-19 vaccines undergo rigorous testing in clinical trials to prove that they meet internationally agreed standards for safety and efficacy.
Hundreds of millions of vaccine doses have been administered globally and millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines in Africa.
As with all vaccines, the WHO and SAHPRA will continuously monitor their use to confirm that they remain safe for all who receive them.
Given the urgent need for COVID-19 vaccines, unprecedented investment and scientific collaboration is changing how vaccines are developed. Some steps in the research and development process for COVID-19 vaccines have taken place in parallel, while still maintaining strict clinical and safety standards. For example, some clinical trials are evaluating multiple vaccines at the same time, but this does not make the studies any less rigorous than normal.
Like any vaccine, COVID-19 vaccines can cause mild side effects, such as a low-grade fever or pain or redness at the injection site. Most reactions to vaccines are mild and go away within a few days on their own. More serious or long-lasting side effects to vaccines are possible but extremely rare. Vaccines are continually monitored to detect rare adverse events.
Reported side effects to COVID-19 vaccines have mostly been mild to moderate and short-lasting. They include: fever, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, diarrhoea, and pain at the injection site.
There have been reports of severe allergic reactions in a small number of people who received a COVID-19 vaccine. A severe allergic reaction – such as anaphylaxis – is a potential but rare side effect with any vaccine. In persons with a known risk, such as previous experience of an allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine or any of the known components in the vaccine, precautions may need to be taken.
If you have previously had an allergic reaction to vaccines or other medicine, you should consult your healthcare provider before getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
All healthcare workers providing vaccines are trained to recognise severe allergic reactions and take practical steps to treat such reactions if they occur.
COVID-19 vaccine use will be closely monitored by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) and international bodies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), to detect serious side effects, including any unexpected side effects. This will help us better understand and manage the specific risks of allergic reactions or other serious side effects to COVID-19 vaccines that may not have been detected during clinical trials, ensuring safe vaccination for all.
Less common side-effects reported for some COVID-19 vaccines have included:
These serious side-effects from vaccines are extremely rare. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises people to be monitored for 15 minutes after vaccination, and those with a history of other allergies for 30 minutes. This allows for them to be monitored and treated immediately if they have a severe reaction.
In most cases, discomfort from pain or fever is a normal sign that your body is building protection. Contact your doctor or healthcare provider if:
Your healthcare provider can best advise on whether or not you should receive a COVID-19 vaccine. However, based on available evidence, people with the following health conditions should generally be excluded from COVID-19 vaccination in order to avoid possible adverse effects:
After mild COVID-19 you can have your COVID-19 vaccine 30 days after recovering from the acute infection. This is usually around 40 days after your first symptoms.
After severe COVID-19 (needing oxygen) you need to wait 90 days for your vaccine.
After acute illness (not COVID-19), especially flu-like symptoms, you should delay your vaccine until you are well.
If you are in quarantine after COVID-19 contact, you should delay your vaccine until your full 10 day quarantine is over.
If you have had another vaccine e.g the flu vaccine, you should wait 2 weeks after the other vaccine before having your COVID-19 vaccine.
If you have a pre-existing condition or are on medication, contact your doctor to discuss vaccination. If you do not have your own doctor you can also contact 0800 029 999 during office hours and select option 3. There will be doctors available to discuss the issue with you.
Vaccination is safe for pregnant women. Pregnancy puts women at higher risk of severe COVID-19, and for this reason, it is advised that vaccines are offered to all pregnant and breastfeeding women during any stage of pregnancy, and during breastfeeding.
COVID-19 vaccination is strongly encouraged for non-pregnant women contemplating pregnancy.
Read more details here.
Studies are still underway, but so far it seems that children 16 years and over can be vaccinated safely.