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Six things you should know about COVID-19 vaccines

Rosie Bernard

11 May 2021

COVID-19 vaccines have been called a ‘game-changer’ because of their potential to save many lives and end the disruption caused by the pandemic. There’s been a lot of false information going around, so it’s natural to have some questions. Here, we put the record straight with the key things you need to know.

A young man getting a vaccination from a nurse wearing PPE

1. COVID-19 vaccines are just as safe as other vaccines.

There has been some confusion about how the new vaccines have been developed and rolled out so quickly, when usually the process takes years. The fact is that the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use have all been through the same rigorous safety testing as any other vaccine before being approved for use.

To start saving as many lives as quickly as possible, the process for COVID-19 vaccine development has been ‘fast-tracked’. This has mainly meant speeding up paperwork, securing funding, or carrying out these steps at the same time as developing the science behind the vaccines. At no point have any of the strict clinical and safety standards required to make sure vaccines are safe for use been ignored or carried out to a lower standard.

2. The risk of having serious side effects from COVID-19 vaccines is very low.

Some people get mild side effects after having the vaccine such as a sore arm, feeling tired, headaches, achy muscles, or feeling or being sick. These will only last for a few days and are usually nothing to worry about, but if your symptoms get worse or you are worried for any reason, it’s best to call your health care provider.

In extremely rare cases, some people have developed blood clots after having certain types of COVID-19 vaccines (AstraZeneca/Oxford and Johnson & Johnson). To put this into context, in Europe, where most of these cases were reported, it’s estimated that one person in every 100,000 people who have the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine develop blood clots.1 However, people can get blood clots naturally, and this is in line with the number of people we would expect to see within the general population.

More work is being done to understand this, but the benefits of getting vaccinated – protecting people from becoming very sick and dying from COVID-19 – are considered to outweigh the relatively very small risk of getting blood clots.

3. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe for people living with HIV.

People living with HIV have been included in safety trials for many of the COVID-19 vaccines, and so far all results show that the vaccines are safe for people with HIV. Likewise, there is nothing to suggest that the vaccine will affect how well antiretroviral treatment for HIV works.

If you are living with HIV, it’s especially important for you to get vaccinated because there is some evidence that your risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 may be higher. In some countries, vaccines are being prioritised for people living with HIV, so check with your health care provider to see when you’re able to have the vaccine.

You can find out more about COVID-19 and HIV on our page.

4. It is safe to have sex after having a COVID-19 vaccine.

However, check the restrictions in your area before meeting up with anyone you don’t live with for sex. As we are still learning whether you can pass COVID-19 on after having the vaccine, it’s important to follow preventative measures to avoid passing the virus on. And remember, you’ll need to use a condom to prevent sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.

5. COVID-19 vaccines are safe if you are pregnant, or want to have children.

There’s nothing to suggest that having a COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy will harm you or your baby. Getting vaccinated during pregnancy will help protect you from getting seriously ill with COVID-19. Vaccines are now being offered to pregnant women in some countries, depending on their plans for roll-out. It’s best to check the availability in your area, and talk to your health care worker about your options if you are pregnant.

There is no evidence that having any of the COVID-19 vaccines can affect your chances of having children, for both men and women. It’s safe to get a COVID-19 vaccine if you are trying to have a baby, or thinking about having one in future.

6. So far, it appears the vaccines still work against virus variants.

More work is being done to understand this, but early studies have shown that the current COVID-19 vaccines will still give you some protection against new virus variants, especially from getting seriously ill or dying.

Researchers are confident that it’s fairly straightforward to tweak the vaccines so they can protect against new variants, if necessary. Vaccine manufacturers are also in the process of developing ‘booster’ shots to help protect against variants in future.

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