What are the effects of the vaccine

Risks and side effects of a corona vaccination

Millions of people around the world hope to be vaccinated against the coronavirus soon. At the same time, many people are divided because, on the one hand, they want to protect themselves against infection, but at the same time fear possible side effects of a vaccination. You have doubts whether the vaccines are actually safe, given the rapid pace of development, and whether potential side effects have been adequately researched.

So which vaccination reactions are normal, which side effects are possible? Should i get vaccinated?

Normal vaccination reactions

It is normal for certain reactions to occur after a vaccination: There may be redness, swelling or pain around the puncture site. Fatigue, fever, headache and body aches are also not uncommon in the first three days after the vaccination.

These normal vaccine reactions are usually mild and subside after a few days. They show that the vaccine is working, because it stimulates the immune system and the body builds antibodies against the infection that was only "simulated" by the vaccination.

The typical vaccination reactions are mild and disappear after a few days

Correspondingly, such typical vaccination reactions were also reported after vaccination of the vaccines already in use from BioNTech-Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and the Russian Sputnik V.

Rarely serious side effects

In addition to the typical vaccination reactions, there were also, in some cases, severe side effects after the vaccination, such as allergic shocks, which have been reported in detail. But there are isolated cases.

Overall, the approved vaccines are safe in the opinion of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the US FDA or the World Health Organization, otherwise they would not have approved the vaccine either.

Some of the new vaccines - so-called mRNA vaccines - differ fundamentally from the established vaccines: They do not contain weakened or killed viruses, but only instructions for a component of the COVID-19 pathogen.

Others are so-called vector vaccines that use harmless adenoviruses (such as cold viruses that only infect chimpanzees) as transporters to smuggle in the surface protein of SARS-CoV-2, the spike protein, and thereby trigger the immune reaction.

Here is an overview of the most frequently mentioned vaccines:

Risks and side effects of the Biontech Pfizer vaccine

During the approval phase, no serious side effects occurred with the active ingredient BNT162b2 from BioNTech from Germany and Pfizer from the USA. The typical vaccine reactions such as tiredness and headache were less frequent and weaker in older patients.

BioNTech-Pfizer's vaccine was first approved in the EU

However, since this mRNA vaccine has been in use, a few patients have shown a strong allergic reaction immediately after the injection. One patient in the USA and two British people even suffered what is known as anaphylactic shock, combined with reddened skin and shortness of breath. Since these people were neither previously ill nor known to be allergic, the British authorities warned allergy sufferers against vaccination.

The manufacturers see no direct connection to the vaccination in the case of a US doctor without previous illnesses who died 16 days after the vaccination of a cerebral haemorrhage as a result of immune thrombocytopenia. The immune system reduces the number of blood platelets.

The headlines were made by 33 deaths in Norway a few days after the first vaccination, all of them were older than 75 and had serious underlying diseases. While manufacturers are investigating the causes, the Norwegian health authority has changed its instructions for vaccinating older, frail people against COVID-19. In the future, doctors should decide individually whether the benefits of the vaccination outweigh the risks of side effects.

Risks and side effects of the Moderna vaccine

The mRNA-1273 vaccine from the US company Moderna is also a gene-based vaccine that is very similar in principle to that from BioNTech / Pfizer.

According to the manufacturer and the testing authorities, the vaccine was well tolerated by the volunteers during the clinical studies. The usual vaccination reactions were therefore only light or moderate and only of short duration. However, according to an interim report by an independent monitoring committee, fatigue occurred in at least 9.7 percent of those vaccinated with mRNA-1273.

The vaccine mRNA-1273 from the US company Moderna is basically similar to that from BioNTech / Pfizer

Serious allergic reactions to the Moderna vaccine are "rare" according to the US health authority CDC. The CDC based its assessment on the documentation of a total of 4,041,396 vaccine doses administered between December 21, 2020 and January 10 this year. A total of 108 allergic reactions were found, but only ten vaccine recipients suffered so-called anaphylactic shock. None of the allergic reactions resulted in death.

Even with the Moderna vaccine, there was paralysis of the facial nerve in very few people who had been vaccinated. It is still unclear whether these reactions are actually related to the vaccination.

Isolated cases of fascial palsy, mostly temporary paralysis of the facial muscles, have already occurred during the clinical studies of BioNTech / Pfizer and Moderna, but also now with vaccinations in Israel.

It is possible that the side effects were not caused by the mRNA, but by lipid nanoparticles that serve as carriers of the mRNA and are then broken down by the body.

Risks and side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine

At the British-Swedish group AstraZeneca, an incident during the clinical trials in September caused a sensation because a test person after vaccination on a Suffered from inflammation of the spinal cord. The study was briefly interrupted until an independent panel of experts determined that the inflammation was unrelated to the vaccination.

AstraZeneca's vaccine has not yet been approved in the EU

With the AstraZeneca vaccine, too, only the typical vaccine reactions such as pain at the injection site, muscle pain, headache or fatigue occurred. Here, too, the vaccination reactions were less frequent and milder in older subjects.

It is a vector vaccine.

Risks and side effects of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine

The vector vaccine Gam-COVID-Vac (Sputnik V) was approved in Russia as early as August 2020, but without waiting for the phase III studies with tens of thousands of test subjects. Sputnik V uses two differently modified adenoviruses (rAd26-S and rAd5-S).

Worldwide there were considerable reservations about the vaccine developed by the Moscow research center Gamaleja, as there were conspicuous duplications in the vaccine study presented, which could indicate manipulation.

Nevertheless, Sputnik V is already vaccinated in many countries, not only in Russia, but also in Belarus, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as well as in India, Hungary and now also in Argentina.

The reservations about the Russian vaccine Sputnik V have remained

On January 2, 2021, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko told journalists that more than 1.5 million doses had been delivered to Russian regions and that a total of more than 800,000 people had been vaccinated.

According to the Russian Ministry of Health, only the usual vaccine reactions such as headache or fever have so far been registered. According to the Ministry of Health, 317 of the 32,013 people vaccinated in Argentina also experienced such typical vaccination reactions.

There are no reports of serious side effects after a Sputnik V vaccination. At the same time, there are apparently great reservations in Russia as well. According to a Reuters report, 52 percent of 3,040 Russian doctors and other health professionals said in surveys that they did not want to be vaccinated with Sputnik V due to insufficient data.

Should you expose yourself to the vaccination risks?

Ultimately, everyone has to decide this question for themselves. It is an individual weighing up the benefits and risks. Is it more important to me to protect myself and others with a vaccination and to lead a more normal life again? Or are the risks of these new vaccine technologies too great for me?

Every vaccination is a weighing of risks and benefits

All risks and side effects registered so far are only snapshots of the past few months - despite all the euphoria about the rapid development of vaccines, this has to be noted. Nothing is yet known about the possible long-term effects of the individual vaccines. The long-term studies that accompany vaccinations around the world and will continue after approval will probably only bring clarity.

So far, there is a lack of information on rare and possibly severe side effects, for example in the case of rare previous illnesses or certain risk groups such as allergy sufferers.

Such side effects only become apparent after many people are vaccinated and after a long period of observation. "There is therefore a residual risk," says Christian Bogdan, director of the Institute for Clinical Microbiology, Immunology and Hygiene at the Erlangen University Hospital. "How high that is will have to be checked in the coming months and years."

Weighing the benefits and risks

The decision is always based on a risk-benefit analysis, says Bogdan, who is also a member of the Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

He made an example calculation for the German press agency: If an old person dies with a corona infection with a probability of 20 percent, "and at the same time the risk of getting a serious side effect of the vaccination would be 1: 50,000 or even less I accept this risk. "

Children and pregnant women should not be vaccinated at first because no data are available yet

Bogdan, on the other hand, would not vaccinate children because their risk of dying from COVID-19 is almost zero and at the same time they have a very long life ahead of them.

According to Bogdan, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not be vaccinated as a precaution based on the current data. A recommendation from the US Disease Protection Agency (CDC), on the other hand, does not exclude vaccination of pregnant or breastfeeding mothers with mRNA vaccines after medical examination and advice.

This article was last updated on January 25, 2021.

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