Getting vaccinated amidst the COVID-19 pandemic
In the midst of this COVID-19 global pandemic, vaccinations are certainly a hot topic right now. Here’s everything you need to know about getting your COVID-19 vaccination.
Why should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
The biggest reason upfront: to prevent you from getting COVID-19.
COVID-19 is a contagious life-threatening disease with effects that could have potential long-term effects on both an individual’s physical and mental health. Expert opinion is that the current approved COVID-19 vaccines may help prevent you from being infected by the virus.
In that same vein, if more people get vaccinated against the virus, this would greatly minimise the risk of transmission within the community and prevent the country’s healthcare system from being overwhelmed.
If a high percentage of the population is able to get vaccinated, this would also help to protect vulnerable groups who aren’t able to receive the vaccine — such as people with compromised immune systems, those with allergies to the vaccine components, pregnant women, and children under 16. As such, it’s important that residents take the chance to register for their vaccine as soon as it is available to them.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?
There are currently four manufacturers for the COVID-19 vaccine approved in Malaysia — Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Sinovac. These three vaccines have been assessed by the Ministry of Health (MoH) to have met safety and efficacy standards.
According to Khairy Jamaluddin, Malaysia’s Coordinating Minister for the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme, even though the vaccines have been rapidly developed due to medical advancements and increased funding to vaccine development, the vaccines are subjected to stringent regulations by both the Ministry of Health Malaysia (MoH) and National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA).
How does the COVID-19 vaccine protect me in the pandemic?
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is an mRNA vaccine — meaning that the vaccine sends “instructions” (in this case, mRNA) to cells to create a chain reaction that results in our bodies producing antibodies to protect us from the COVID-19 virus.
How this works: The vaccine sends instructions for cells to produce a harmless protein piece that’s also unique to the COVID-19 virus. Once the cell displays the protein piece on its surface, the body’s immune system recognises that it doesn’t belong there, thus provoking an immune response that produces antibodies against the COVID-19 virus.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is a viral vector vaccine that uses a modified version of a different virus (vector) to elicit an immune response and protect the body from the COVID-19 virus.
How this works: Once vaccinated, the vector enters a cell in our body and produces a spike protein. This spike protein will be visible on the surface of the cell and our immune system will recognise that it doesn’t belong there. This will trigger an immune response and the body will begin to produce antibodies to fight off what it believes to be an infection.
On the other hand, the Sinovac vaccine is a type of inactivated vaccine that uses the ‘dead’ virus to prompt an immune response without causing an infection from the virus itself. The vaccine instructs the body to create antibodies to fight against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Once vaccinated, the body is able to fight against live coronaviruses.
Thus, those who have received the vaccine gain protection against the virus without having to get sick from the virus itself.
As the virus spreads rapidly around the world, new strains of the virus naturally start to develop through mutation. That said, changes or mutations to the virus should not render existing vaccines completely ineffective — there is currently no evidence at this time suggesting that the vaccines do not protect against specific COVID-19 strains, including the UK’s reported variant, according to the MOH. The best way to combat this is to quickly stop the spread of the virus and prevent it from mutating too much.
Who can get the COVID-19 vaccine in Malaysia?
Since the first COVID-19 vaccine shots were administered on 24 February 2021, Malaysia has been rolling out its vaccination plan in phases.
The COVID-19 vaccine was first offered to essential frontline workers in February 2021. Subsequently, vaccinations for seniors aged 70 years and above commenced island-wide in April 2021. On 23rd February 2021, Malaysians could start registering their interest in getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
As of April, just about 1.3 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered — with just over 800,000 individuals have received at least one dose of the vaccine and more than 500,000 among them having completed both vaccine doses.
Can children aged 12 years and above get the COVID-19 vaccine in Malaysia?
As of 15th June 2021, the Drug Control Authority (DCA) has approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine for those aged 12 years old and above.
Can pregnant women and lactating mothers get the COVID-19 vaccine?
The Pfizer vaccine is suitable for pregnant women between 14-33 weeks of pregnancy and lactating mothers. The AstraZeneca vaccine is currently not recommended for pregnant mothers but suitable for lactating mothers. However, the Sinovac vaccine is currently not recommended for pregnant mothers and lactating mothers are advised to consult with a doctor before getting vaccinated. Pregnant and lactating mothers are advised to consult their doctors for more information on the vaccine before booking a vaccination appointment.
Can the vaccine affect a lactating mother’s milk production?
While the CDC states that the clinical trial for the COVID-19 vaccination did not include breastfeeding mother’s and is unable to provide data on its effects on milk production, recent reports have that antibodies are present in the breast milk of lactating mothers that received the COVID-19 vaccination.
Can the COVID-19 vaccine cause fertility issues?
Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that the COVID-19 vaccines can cause any fertility issues and women looking to get pregnant are not advised to get a pregnancy test before getting vaccinated.
How much does the COVID-19 vaccine cost?
The COVID-19 vaccine is completely free for all Malaysian Citizens and non-citizens — including long-term work pass holders and foreign domestic workers.
How do I sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine?
In Malaysia, there are 3 easy ways to get register for the COVID-19 vaccination. Citizens and non-citizens can register through the MySejahtera app by clicking the COVID-19 vaccination icon, verifying the registration details and completing the health assessment section. You may also register for your spouse or parents by adding their details under the Vaccine Dependent section of the app.
Alternatively, you can also register by visiting vaksincovid.gov.my or calling Malaysia’s designated Vaccine Hotline at 1800-88-828.
What happens during the COVID-19 vaccination process?
According to individuals who have received their first or second shot of the vaccine (administered into the muscle of the upper arm), most report that the injection itself is relatively painless. You might experience some soreness in your arm after, as well as some mild side effects. It is recommended that you plan at least one day of rest after receiving your COVID-19 shot.
In order to complete the full regimen, you will need to receive two doses of the vaccine. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses are 21 days apart, while the AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccine doses are 8-12 weeks and 14 days apart, respectively. This is to ensure that you get full protection from the vaccine and improve vaccine efficacy.
After getting your COVID-19 vaccine, you might experience some soreness in your arm, along with some mild symptoms such as fatigue, fever and headaches. These symptoms are a natural effect of your body’s immune system building protection against the COVID-19 virus and should clear up within a few days.
Since the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine voluntary programme on the 2nd of May, the government has also advised those getting vaccinated in the coming weeks to take note of the side effects below. Malaysian citizens and non-citizens are to seek immediate medical assistance if the following side effects are present within the first 4 days to 1 month after receiving the vaccine.
Is there a chance that I could get COVID-19 from the vaccine itself?
The current COVID-19 vaccines in the Malaysian market cannot make you sick with COVID-19 — the vaccines themselves do not contain the live virus.
However, there is still a chance that a person can still get COVID-19 if they are infected just before or after receiving their vaccine shot, or in between the two doses. That’s because our bodies will not be able to instantly be immune to the virus, and will take some time to develop protection against COVID-19.
Malaysians should continue to remain vigilant about protecting themselves and the community from the virus by always wearing a mask when out, frequently washing hands and seeing a doctor if any respiratory symptoms are present.
Another possible side effect of vaccines is allergic reactions, which can range from mild to severe. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a minority of the population might experience some allergic reactions to COVID-19 vaccines.
These reactions range from:
- A rash on the arm near the site of injection
- Non-severe reaction: hives, swelling and wheezing within four hours of getting the vaccine
- Severe reaction: anaphylactic shock
According to data from the US and the UK since the vaccine rollout, about eleven per one million people might get severe allergic side effects. Beyond that, the rate of serious side effects is very low.
In Malaysia, vaccinated individuals are monitored for half an hour at the vaccination site, with the vaccination site equipped with facilities, medications and staff ready to deal with a severe allergic reaction and to minimise the risk of complications to those receiving the vaccine.
Keeping yourself and your loved ones safe in a pandemic
All in all, the aim of Malaysia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout is to safely and quickly protect the community from the virus, in order to safeguard our lives and livelihoods.
While waiting to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, getting vaccinated against influenza and other preventable diseases (such as cervical cancer) is especially important as well, so do remember to keep up with your regular vaccination schedule.
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