Why getting your COVID-19 jab may be the most important thing you do this year
Posted on 19 August 2021
Your COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection we have against a pandemic that hasn’t shown signs of abating.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started holding the world hostage in March last year, we could only contain the spread of the virus through non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as wearing masks, sanitising and social distancing. Yet none of these are infallible: while they may go some way to controlling the dispersion of virus molecules, each relies heavily on human behaviour – and we all know how that can end up. After all, how many times have you had to turn back because you forgot your mask, or realised you’re standing a little too close to someone?
That’s why the launch of the vaccine earlier this year was so significant. Now that we have an intensively researched, science-based solution, we can start to feel a little safer (even if it isn’t time to pack away the masks and sanitiser just yet).
So, what exactly does getting a jab mean for your immunity? The vaccine provides antibodies to ensure that if you do come into contact with the virus, your infection will be far less severe than if you had no protection. “This means you might still get symptoms, but you’re unlikely to become so ill that you require hospitalisation or ventilation,” explains Prof Nivesh Sewlall, a pulmonologist at Mediclinic Morningside. Current information relating to the admission of vaccinated patients into Mediclinic ICU or High Care supports the views expressed by Groote Schuur physicians that the disease appears to be far less severe for those that have been fully vaccinated. In most cases of COVID-19 in vaccinated patients, the symptoms are mild – and many are asymptomatic. Most importantly, vaccinated people are far less likely to die from COVID-19.
The immunity is expected to last between eight months and one year, although this has yet to be confirmed through further studies and evidence. It may be that you’ll need an annual booster – as you do with a yearly flu shot.
What about masks? This is a question that worries many people, especially since the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the USA recently revised its guidelines. “Initially, the thinking was that if all the people at a gathering have been vaccinated, you can do away with masks. However, we’ve since come to understand there’s a chance that vaccinated people can pass on the virus.” Dr Sewlall advises. In South Africa wearing a mask in public is still mandatory despite your vaccination status. It’s especially important to continue to wear a mask, sanitise your hands and practise social distancing if you’re around people with comorbidities, and those who are immune-suppressed or elderly, as they have a greater risk of severe infection.
Choosing to be vaccinated has implications for the broader community, as variants tend to develop among unvaccinated individuals. What’s more, the lower the vaccination rate, the more likely it is that we’ll continue to experience waves of infection. In contrast, if most people have been vaccinated, we could reach a point where COVID-19 becomes a far more manageable seasonal illness, much like the flu.