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January 2021 edition

COVID-19 vaccine: What you need to know

Written by Allison Cooper

With South Africa’s mass Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) vaccination programme rolling out for healthcare workers in February, Vuk’uzenzele sheds some light on what the COVID-19 vaccine is, how it works and why it’s so important to stop the spread of the virus. 

What does a vaccine do?

A vaccine trains your body’s immune system (which fights infection), to produce antibodies (proteins that fight disease) – exactly like it would if you were exposed to a virus. 

Why is the vaccine so important?

Being vaccinated against COVID-19 is an effective way to protect yourself against the virus because your risk of infection is reduced. You are then less likely to pass the virus on to someone else.

The aim of vaccination is to reach herd immunity – when enough of the population is immune to the virus it provides indirect protection to those who aren’t immune, bringing the spread of the virus under control.

Are vaccines necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccination is the best defence against serious infections.

Will the vaccine stop me from getting COVID-19?

No vaccine provides 100% protection. 

Herd immunity also does not provide full protection to those who are not vaccinated. However, with herd immunity, these people will have substantial protection.

Is the vaccination safe?

COVID-19 vaccines go through a demanding, multi-stage testing process, including large trials that involve tens of thousands of people.

Every vaccine used in South Africa’s mass vaccination programme has to be approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority. 

The Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine has already been approved by various regulators around the world and is being rolled out in other countries.

Who will get the vaccine first?

The country’s estimated 1.25 million healthcare workers will receive the vaccine first. 

In Phase Two, essential workers such as teachers, police, municipal workers, taxi drivers and other frontline personnel; people in institutions such as old age homes, shelters and prisons; and people over 60 and adults with co-morbidities will be prioritised.

In Phase Three, about 22.5 million of the remaining adult population will be vaccinated. 

The target is to vaccinate 67% of the population by the end of 2021. By then we should reach herd immunity.

Who is purchasing the vaccine?

Government is the sole purchaser of vaccines and will distribute them to provincial governments and the private sector.

All those who are vaccinated will be placed on a national register and provided with a vaccination card.