RONGOĀ ĀRAI MATE
Advice and guidance on vaccines
With an increase in information and public discussion about the COVID -19 Vaccination Programme, its important that our whānau have access to information that supports their right to make informed and confident decisions.
How do vaccines keep us safe?
Vaccines are our best protection against COVID-19. They lessen our chances of being infected, and infecting whānau and friends. They protect us against serious illness, and prevent us from ending up in hospital and possibly dying.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine we use most in New Zealand has been well studied and mostly has mild side effects. The most common side effect is a sore arm. The vaccine has not been developed overnight – it’s based on previous efforts to produce a vaccine for another coronavirus, SARS. It is important to be aware that no shortcuts were taken with testing and development of this vaccine.
Since December 2020, hundreds of millions of people have received a version of the vaccine worldwide – more than those infected with the virus. The vaccine does not contain the virus so you cannot be infected by having the vaccine, nor can you pass COVID-19 on by being vaccinated.
The vaccine is not our only defence against catching or spreading COVID-19. Other measures include:
Ensuring venues provide good airflow (i.e. outdoors makes it less likely COVID-19 will be transmitted)
Thorough hand washing or hand gel use;
Using the COVID-19 app in case we have been in contact with someone infected or have become infected ourselves.
How do our bodies fight infection?
When germs, like the virus that causes COVID-19, invade our bodies, they attack and multiply. This infection is what causes illness. Our immune system uses several germ-fighting tools to fight the infection, but it can take several days or weeks for our bodies to make these tools, which means we can get sick in the meantime.
After an infection, our immune system remembers what it learned to protect the body against that same disease next time.
The body keeps a few T-lymphocytes, called “memory cells”, that can quickly respond to clear the infection and limit the damage to our bodies if the body meets the same virus again.
You might have heard people talk about these antibodies to describe whether a COVID-19 case was an ‘historical case’.
How the COVID -19 Vaccines work
COVID -19 vaccines help our bodies develop immunity (the body's memory of the infection) to the virus that causes COVID -19 without us having to get the illness. Here's a quick video on how COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines work.
It takes two weeks for the body to develop immunity after the vaccinations.
How to minimise side effects
Most often, after vaccination, the process of building immunity might cause symptoms such as pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, fever and muscle ache.
These symptoms can be managed with paracetamol, heat packs, and taking things easy for a short period.
More serious reactions, are very rare and typically occur in the first 15 minutes after the vaccination. Trained medical staff are on hand at vaccination sites if this happens.
The different kinds of Vaccines that will be used in New Zealand
There are two COVID -19 vaccines available in Aotearoa.
The preferred option is the mRNA vaccine by Pfizer/BioNTech ComirnatyTM, however, anyone aged 18 years and older who cannot get the Pfizer vaccine can opt for the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
Both require two doses around 4 weeks apart for those 12 years and older, and 8 weeks apart for those aged from 5 – 11 years, and both are free.
Some people who are severely immunocompromised may be recommended to have a third dose of the vaccine, to ensure that they have good protection.
Information on eligibility is available here.
Booster vaccinations are also available for anyone over 18 years, who had their 2nd dose more than 4 months ago. Boosters are also free and accessed in the same way as the 1st and 2nd doses. Currently, boosters are not available for people aged under 18 years.
What about our Tamariki
Vaccination is now also available for 5 to 11-year-olds. Vaccination is important for tamariki – it helps to keep them safe, and it also helps to protect others, including people who are unable to get vaccinated themselves or who are at high risk of severe illness if they get COVID-19.
The vaccination is safe for tamariki. Side effects are similar to those for adults and serious side effects are very rare. There are some good resources for tamariki and whānau to support you in making decisions about vaccination for your tamariki.
Boosters for 16 and 17-year-olds
Boosters are now available to those aged 16 years and above. If people have contracted the virus it's recommended to wait 3 months before getting your booster, or if you haven't contracted it wait 6 months from when you had your primary course of vaccination.
The bottom line
Getting vaccinated is one of many steps you can take to protect you and your whānau from COVID-19. Protection from COVID-19 through vaccination is really important because for some people, catching this disease can cause severe illness or death.