Makhomisane explains how the COVID-19 vaccine works and addresses myths surrounding the virus.
Dr Mabowa Makhomisane explains how the COVID-19 vaccine works and addresses myths surrounding the virus.
South Africa is set to receive one-million COVID-19 vaccine doses from India in January. Although this is good news, there are many people who are skeptical about taking the vaccine.
We spoke to Dr Mabowa Makhomisane, a General Practitioner with over ten years experience in medicine, to shed light on how the vaccine works and to address concerns about it.
How does a vaccine work?
"When an infection comes (in)to your body for the very first time and it does not kill you, your body is able to mount a lot of ammunition against that same infection.
"When that infection comes back, it’s able to be defeated before you even notice that you’ve got that infection. So the idea with the vaccine is pretty much similar. Previously we used to give patients dead viruses that come into the system and the body is able to recognise it. The good thing about that virus is that it will not cause any harm because it is dead and now the body will be able to get some strong immune system that is able to fight against that particular virus and ensure that next time when you get the real virus you’re able to defeat it without any problems."
There are many viruses that kill millions of people around the world every year, yet there have been no vaccines. How come the COVID-19 vaccine was created within such a short period of time?
"What is different with the COVID-19 vaccine is that we are not using a dead virus; we are using a created MRNA which is used to go into the human cell and tell the cell how to protect itself against COVID-19. This is why it took such a short time for this vaccine to be made – because we are not growing the virus and then killing it and then from there making sure that it’s dead and then give it to the human beings. Instead, we manufactured the MRNA - which is mainly part of the DNA of the COVID-19 virus. They put in a small droplet of fat or liquid and then they freeze it and then inject in into human bones so the human body is able to identify that RNA. That RNA is basically able to tell your own body cells how to defend themselves against COVID-19."
There have been several theories that COVID-19 vaccines alters a person’s DNA. How true is that?
“There’s absolutely no evidence that it attacks your DNA or it changes your DNA in any shape or form. Patients that have gone through the trials in the last three or four months have shown that the DNA remains the same and patients are able to produce antibodies against this virus.
“What we do not know for sure for now is how long these antibodies last and whether they would last as long as those that are produced by the real virus when a person is infected and have survived. But also, we know of conditions where the vaccine itself is able to give much longer antibodies against a specific disease as compared to those that are caused by the actual virus itself."
A lot of people are worried about the side-effects of the vaccine. How dangerous is the vaccine?
“For now, there’s really no evidence that shows that these vaccines are terrible to human beings. In fact, the evidence that we’re seeing is only that these vaccines are actually going to do very good for the patients.
"Every drug in medicine has got side effects and these side effects can affect different people differently. In every population, even a simple Panado, there are people that when they take a simple Panado they tend to have side effects. Similarly with vaccines as well, especially because of the way they are made; the way they’re grown.
"Some vaccines are actually grown in eggs, for example. So people who are allergic to eggs or components of sulphur tend to have allergic reactions to certain vaccines that are produced in that way. So similarly with the COVID-19 vaccine, because it sort of resembles a COVID-19 virus the body might be able to aggressively work against it in such a way that you may have a reaction to it, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the vaccine is poisonous. That can happen to a fraction of the community."
There is a video which circulated on social media showing a health practitioner fainting a few minutes after receiving the vaccine. How does one ensure that their health is not at risk while the body adjusts to the vaccine?
“That is why it is only administered by a doctor and once you’ve been administered you have to be observed for 15 minutes to ensure that you do not have any reactions or an allergic reaction from the vaccine. You are actually monitored for over a period of one month once you have received this vaccine. So different allergic reactions can occur, so the main thing is just to observe yourself to see if you’re experiencing anything different in your body after taking the vaccine.
"The good news is that the majority of the reactions that we’ve noted up to so far are easily manageable and patients improve within days after they’ve had those vaccines. Certainly, those vaccines are much lighter compared to what could possibly happens if you do not take the vaccine and actually get the virus which might lead to death itself.“
Image courtesy of iStock/ @Lubo Ivanko
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