Credit: 123rf.com

Covid-19 has undoubtedly made 2020 a turbulent year for many of us. Unfortunately, the effects of the pandemic have spilled over into the new year.

But there’s good news — both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines have already reached our shores. The government is also aiming to vaccinate all Singaporeans and long-term residents by the end of the year.

Like most of you, we’ve got some burning questions. Whether you’re too shy to ask them or simply overwhelmed by all the information out there, we’re here to save you the trouble.

We sit down with Dr Clarence Teo, 57, a general practitioner who has already received the Covid-19 jab, for a chat on all things vaccine-related.

Was getting the Covid-19 vaccine scary?

Curious about what getting the Covid-19 vaccine feels like?

“The injection itself was painless but there’s a slight ache after about 30 minutes, which is entirely tolerable,” says Dr Teo.

“The ache does become more established by the next day. With the second dose, I noticed the pain was more pronounced, but still acceptable.”

In fact, a regular influenza shot is more uncomfortable, according to Dr Teo.

What happens if I forget to go back to the doctor for my second dose?

“The second dose is to ensure lasting immunity, Dr Teo tells us. “If it is missed, the person will not be fully protected.”

“The second dosage of the vaccine can still be given later on, but it is recommended to be done as soon as possible and not be delayed for weeks.”

He adds, “In the UK, there was a suggestion that the second dose be delayed to 12 weeks so that more people could get a least one dose. However, this was strongly discouraged based on the studies which showed that a gap of three weeks was best.”

Does getting the vaccine mean I am protected against Covid-19 for life?

Unfortunately, a one-time shot of the vaccine is not enough to protect you for life.

“Optimistically, for now, the vaccine will be effective for around six months, which is similar to the flu shot,” Dr Teo says.

Why do they inject patients on the arm and not on other places like the butt?

Dr Teo says that the answer is more straightforward than you think — for adults, the arm is the most easily accessible body part that is appropriate for an injection. Apart from having a decent amount of muscle mass, it is also more practical for mass vaccinations.

If you’ve heard of, or maybe even experienced getting a vaccination on your butt, Dr Teo explains, “Vaccinations in kids go into the butt because the arm muscles are too tiny. Sometimes, we can use the thighs too.”

For adults, all vaccines go into the arm. Adults only ever get injected on the rear for other types of substances such as steroids, or for particularly painful shots such as some painkiller or antibiotic injections, Dr Teo adds.

Does getting a vaccine mean that I’m getting the coronavirus injected into my body?

According to Dr Teo, this isn’t the case with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

They’re different from “traditional” vaccines which are essentially a weakened form of the virus or bacteria.

“Instead, the [Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines] they have created are actually ‘messengers’ that tell the body’s immune system to manufacture the appropriate antibodies necessary to attack a certain part of the coronavirus called the spike proteins.”

In any case, both types of vaccines are “equally safe”, says Dr Teo.

Is the vaccine safe despite being developed so quickly?

Vaccines typically go through years of development before getting the green light. However, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were developed in under a year.

But Dr Teo assures that this doesn’t make them any less safe.

Like other vaccines, Covid-19 vaccines follow the standard “high level of care” during the creation process, he says.

“The [only] difference is that the steps are done concurrently instead of consecutively, so the whole process is compressed.

“Resources, funding and collaboration to develop vaccines for less impactful diseases than Covid-19 would normally take years to organise, but there has been unprecedented international co-operation and massive governmental funding for the Covid-19 vaccine as it has caused so much damage worldwide.”

Last words for people who are afraid of getting the Covid-19 vaccine

For those of you who would rather skip getting the vaccine despite the evidence that it’s safe, Dr Teo has some parting words:

“The risk of the virus causing lasting damage to your heart, lungs, brain and other major organs in your body are significant and the very low risk of side effects and the mild discomfort of getting the vaccine are nothing compared to the potential risks of infection.”

This article was first published in AsiaOne.