Frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine:

Was the vaccine rushed?

Firstly, scientists were not working from scratch when they started making a vaccine. A Coronavirus is a family of diseases that effect the respiratory system. We have seen them before from previous diseases such as Bird Flu and Swine Flu. This meant that we knew how a coronavirus behaves. It’s key is its “spike protein” that enables it to unlock the doorway into our body’s cells. If a vaccine could train the body to attack the spike - then it would be effective. A vaccine already existed that could identify the protein.

There was a massive global effort. Most of the time producing a vaccine involves a lot of waiting around. Time may be spent writing grant applications, having them rejected, writing them again, recruiting people to take part in trials and getting approval (among much else).

A process known as a “rolling review” was introduced. Normally all the vaccine information is released to the regulatory agencies at the same time. In the case of Covid-19, information was released to the regulators as it was acquired. This worked out to be much more expensive, but a lot faster.

Money was not an issue. Both private and government money has been poured into the development of the vaccine. Governments also pre-bought vaccines, meaning that more options could be explored at once.

This enabled so much to be done. Around the world, scientists and volunteers were working constantly. This kind of global effort has not been seen before. 30,000 people volunteered for the third stage of the Oxford vaccine trials, meaning that the trials could take place while parts of the vaccine were being developed. People were keen to help in any way they could.

Safety has not been sacrificed. Instead the unparalleled scientific push to make the trials happen, the droves of people willing to take part, and of course the money blew many of the usual hold-ups aside.

How does the vaccine work?

The vaccines all work in slightly different ways. Here is a breakdown:

Pfizer/Moderna:

This type of vaccine contains part of the ‘instructions’ from the virus that causes COVID-19. This allows the body’s own cells to make a protein that is unique to the virus.
The person’s immune system recognises that this unique protein should not be in the body and responds by producing natural defences against infection by COVID-19.

Oxford Astrazeneca

This type of vaccine uses a different, harmless virus to deliver the ‘instructions’ from the virus that causes COVID-19.
This allows the body’s own cells to make the protein unique to the COVID-19 virus.
The person’s immune system recognises that this unique protein should not be in the body and responds by producing natural defences against infection by COVID-19.

In both cases, if the vaccinated person is exposed to Covid-19, their natural defences are able to recognise the protein in Covid-19. The body’s defences are ready to kill the virus and prevent it from entering cells and spreading further.

Is it better to acquire immunity naturally by recovering from COVID?

Some people may be thinking that they’d rather recover from Covid-19 than take a vaccine, as it seems more natural. This is an incredibly dangerous approach. Not only could you risk passing the virus on to somebody more vulnerable (or getting incredibly ill yourself and overloading the NHS), you could also end up with what is called “Long Covid”.

Long Covid is a term used to describe a set of symptoms that continue for weeks or months after the initial illness. Research suggests that 1 in 5 people who test positive for Covid have symptoms for five weeks or longer, and for 1 in 10 symptoms last 12 weeks or longer.

You could suffer a loss of smell and taste, severe fatigue, lung problems and an increased risk of blood clots leading to thrombosis or heart attacks.

There is currently no way to predict how long symptoms of long Covid will last. Experience from other viruses points to between three and six months, but at this point it is difficult to tell

Does the vaccine work on the new strain?

It is important to recognise that there are multiple strains of Covid-19 in the world, and that it is natural for viruses to mutate. There is currently no evidence stating that the vaccine would not be effective against the new strain. In short, the vaccine still works.

Even if the current vaccines no longer worked, making a new one would not take a lot of time. It is simply a case of tweaking the one we already have.

Is the vaccine safe?

There is no reason to believe that the vaccine is unsafe. Over the past year there have been hundreds of thousands of volunteers testing the various vaccines through different stages of development. The Pfeizer vaccine had approximately 40,000 volunteers, with the Oxford one having around 30,000. Testing has been rigorous and in depth.

There are some minor side effects that have been observed. These include: fever, joint pain, headache and tiredness. Most of these can be treated with paracetamol and vanish after 48 hours.