TORONTO – As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout approaches, a question many are asking is, “How will I feel after taking a vaccine?”
Fortunately, there are thousands of people who already know firsthand what side effects can be expected from these vaccines: those who have already participated in clinical trials.
The first Canadians could receive a COVID-19 vaccine by next week, with 249,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine expected by the end of this year.
The vaccine is safe and the side effects seen in the trials were temporary.
But vaccine study volunteers like nurse Kristen Choi say people preparing for COVID-19 vaccination need to know what side effects might be occurring – not to scare them off, but to let them know to what to expect when they get the vaccine, and reassure them that they will be okay.
She wrote about participating in a Pfizer trial this summer, in a JAMA article published this week titled “A Nursing Researcher’s Experiment in a COVID-19 Vaccine Trial.”
“Volunteering for the trial seemed like an honorable thing to do – and the 50 percent chance of being randomized to the vaccine early on seemed equally compelling to me as a practicing nurse,” she wrote in the journal. .
She passed the necessary screening and was quickly set up to be one of the trial participants. The trial involved injecting half of the participants with a placebo and half of them with the experimental vaccine, in order to see if the vaccine was actually having an effect.
After the first shot, Choi felt fine and was unsure whether she had received the placebo or the vaccine. His second stroke, administered the following month, was a different story.
The injection site was much more painful than the first injection, and at the end of the day she “felt dizzy, shivering, nauseous and had a searing headache.”
She fell asleep, but woke up at midnight, feeling even worse. She was feverish and could barely lift her arm, according to her description on JAMA.
At 5:30 a.m., she woke up once more and took her temperature, noting that it was scorching 40.5 degrees Celsius.
“When I saw I had a high fever, it was the highest fever I can remember,” Choi told CTV News, “I think my first bowel reaction was, ‘Did do I have COVID in some way? ‘”
She reported her reaction to researchers at 9 a.m. when the office opened, and was told that “a lot of people have reactions after the second injection” and that she should continue to monitor her symptoms.
Pfizer and Moderna say their vaccines can induce side effects similar to symptoms of COVID-19 infection, including fatigue, chills, headaches, muscle pain and joint pain.
In the case of the Pfizer vaccine, people over the age of 56 experienced milder side effects than the younger cohort aged 18 to 55. The most common side effects were fatigue and headaches for all ages, with up to 60 percent of younger people feeling tired after their second injection. Only 16 percent of the younger group had a fever after their second injection, compared to 11 percent of the older group, according to a backgrounder submitted to the FDA.
Choi fever was high enough to be considered “severe” – which was only experienced by 0.8% of participants after their second dose.
While Choi’s instinctive fear after becoming feverish was understandable, none of the vaccines could transmit the virus to recipients.
“You probably can’t get the COVID-19 from the COVID-19 vaccine,” Dr. Paul Offit told CTV News. Offit is a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases and an expert in virology and vaccine development who currently sits on the FDA committee responsible for overseeing and evaluating COVID-19 vaccines.
The side effects of vaccines can seem frightening and unpleasant, but there is no need to worry in the long run, according to experts like infectious disease specialist Dr Sumon Chakrabarti.
“These are actually indicators that your immune system is activated, not proof that the vaccine is causing disease in you,” Chakrabarti told CTV News. “And it’s no different with new vaccines.”
“It might make you feel bad enough to miss a day of work, it’s possible,” Offit said. “I think people should think of this as your immune response doing what it normally does. When you are infected with a virus or bacteria, or when you are inoculated with a vaccine, your immune response kicks in. It makes a variety of proteins called cytokines, which cause these types of symptoms which change your immune system in action. ”
Chakrabarti added that it is important for people to know that these symptoms are common, but temporary, and that they “do not have long-term negative consequences.”
Choi may have had an overwhelming day after receiving her second injection, but it ended as quickly as it came.
“By the next morning, all of my symptoms were gone except for a painful, swollen lump at the injection site,” she wrote in her article.
She noted that while her symptoms were common among trial participants, most participants did not have all of the symptoms she was experiencing at the same time.
Four volunteers who received the Pfizer vaccine developed Bell’s palsy, a muscle weakness in the face, but the company says they have made a full recovery.
Yet such reports can make people hesitate to get the vaccine themselves. That’s why doctors say full transparency is essential.
“I think you had better explain to them that it might well happen in advance, so that they are not afraid,” Offit said.
“I think that hearing about high rates of side effects could be something that worries people about the vaccine or even discourages them from getting it,” she said.
“It’s really important that people get both doses, for it to be effective, and therefore if people have to stop after the first dose [because] they were not feeling well, it could be a problem getting the vaccine to people.
Any vaccines that reach the public will have undergone extensive trials involving thousands of people to test the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness, and will also need to be approved by Health Canada before Canadians begin to receive injections.
And although Choi has had a more difficult vaccine experience than many others, she does not regret participating in the vaccine trials.
“If I had to start over, I absolutely would,” she says. “And I would encourage all healthcare workers and members of the public to do the same.”
Now she just wants to prepare others for vaccination.
“Some people may need a day or two of rest after the vaccine to recover,” she suggested.
“I think it’s important that healthcare workers, public health professionals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists – anyone who might be involved in offering this vaccine to people – to inform people ahead of potential side effects and explain why they’re “happening,” she said.
“This is how vaccines work and how our bodies learn to protect themselves. And I think we don’t always do a good job of explaining this to people in detail.
The concept of side effects is intimidating, but they’re much better than getting sick from COVID-19, Offit said.
“This virus actually causes inflammation in your blood vessels, and because every organ in your body is supplied with blood, every organ can be affected,” he said. “It can cause strokes, heart attacks, liver disease and kidney disease.
“The coronavirus is doing a number of things that were never intended. I think you should fear this virus, and if you have a day or two of these mild symptoms, fever, fatigue or headache [from taking a vaccine], it’s a very small price to pay to know you’re going to be safe [COVID-19]. »
Offit added that he “can’t wait to get this vaccine.
“And yes, I would be more than happy to give it to my family,” he said.
Governments and vaccine manufacturers will also continue to monitor these vaccines as millions more are vaccinated in the coming weeks, ensuring safe deployment.