There have been several conspiracy theories surrounding taking the COVID-19 vaccines even before they were discovered. Most of those conspiracy theories were borne out of religious and social factors, as well as outright fake news.

Now that the vaccines have been made available in most countries, including Nigeria, there have been concerns in some quarters as to the efficacy of the vaccines, particularly the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, whose use was suspended by some countries recently due to presumed cases of blood clotting after use.

There is, however, no reason to be afraid. The cases of blood clotting recorded were minimal. Moreover, clinical trials conducted by the European Medicines Agency and the United States have found the vaccine to be “safe and effective,” offering complete protection against the worst outcomes from COVID-19 while causing no serious side effects. The vaccine is even now being used again by countries that earlier suspended it.

In fact, all the vaccines approved for use globally have been tested and trusted because like other drugs, the COVID-19 vaccines went through multiple phases of rigorous testing, analysis, and review. The clinical trials for the COVID-19 enrolled far more participants than other vaccine trials.

Also, agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration closely monitors the vaccine development process and testing results for efficacy and safety.

As part of the FDA’s formal process to determine if the vaccine is approved for public use, it also seeks a recommendation from a multidisciplinary team of experts consisting of independent medical officers, microbiologists, chemists, biostatisticians, and other health experts.

But if you still have concerns about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and among those feeling hesitant about getting a COVID-19 vaccine, below are 10 reasons why you should consider getting vaccinated.

To help stop the pandemic

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, wearing face masks and social distancing help reduce your chance of being exposed to the coronavirus or spreading it to others, but these measures are not enough.

Vaccines will work with your immune system so it will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed, the CDC says on its website.

The agency states that the combination of getting vaccinated and following COVID-19 safety protocols offers the best protection from COVID-19.

“Stopping a pandemic requires using all the tools available,” the CDC says.

It helps from contracting the virus

COVID-19 vaccines were evaluated in clinical trials and have been approved because the studies show that the vaccines significantly reduce the probability of contracting the virus.

Based on what has been proved about vaccines for other diseases, the COVID-19 vaccines may help keep you from getting seriously ill, even if you don’t get the virus. Getting vaccinated also may protect people around you—particularly those at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

A professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Infectious Diseases, US, Michael Saag, says the true value of the vaccine is more easily noticeable than if the vaccine development had failed.

“We would have been faced with an exploding pandemic for which there was no end in sight,” Saag says. “It might continue to burn through the population for another two to four years.”

He adds that the vaccine works at an almost unprecedented level of effectiveness.

Side effects are usually mild, temporary

Experts at the University of Colorado Boulder Medical Services, US, say it is important to remember that side effects are normal (they may be more common after the second dose) and show that your immune system is building up protection against the virus.

However, many people do not even experience side effects after vaccination. But if you do experience side effects, they are usually mild and go away within a few days. Common vaccine side effects include pain or swelling at the injection site, headache, chills, tiredness, and fever.

The vaccines don’t alter DNA

One of the conspiracy theories that sprang up is that taking the vaccine could alter the human DNA. But it is outright fake news.

Saag says these mRNA vaccines give instructions to our cells to make a harmless piece of what is called the spike protein. The spike protein is found on the surface of the virus.

“COVID-19 mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where DNA (genetic material) is stored. Once the instructions are inside your muscle cells, the cells use them to make the protein piece, then the cells break down the instructions and get rid of them,” he says.

“Next, the cell places the protein piece on its surface. The immune system spots the protein and begins building an immune response and making antibodies to fight the infection. At the end of this process, our bodies have learned how to protect against future infection,” Saag adds.

Prof Martin Michaelis and Dr Mark Wass of the School of Biosciences at the University of Kent, United Kingdom, also debunked the theory that the vaccines alter the DNA.

“None of the vaccines interacts with our DNA. Hence, a manipulation of DNA is technically impossible,” they say.

Vaccines save lives

An Associate Head (Students), School of Biological Sciences, University of Portsmouth, UK, Alessandro Siani, notes that things have come a long way since Edward Jenner first vaccinated a young boy against smallpox in 1796.

The World Health Organisation estimates that vaccination currently prevents two million to three million deaths every year.

Siani says, “Smallpox, which claimed approximately 300 million lives in the 20th century alone, has been fully eradicated thanks to the development and implementation of safe and effective vaccines.

“For some people today, COVID-19 also proves fatal. If you’re at high risk from the disease, getting vaccinated could save your life.”

To protect and support health services

An Ibadan, Oyo State-based public health expert, Dr Kunle Adedapo, says receiving a vaccine means that you are less likely to contract infectious diseases on your lifetime. This, in turn, relieves the pressure on health workers and the health system.

“When we relieve the health workers of some pressure, they can then dedicate their efforts, funds and equipment to helping patients with non-preventable illnesses.

“So getting vaccinated against COVID-19 will help in exactly the same way – freeing up resources by lowering case numbers and preventing further backlogs of other treatments,” Adedapo tells Saturday PUNCH.

The expert also states that when enough people are vaccinated against an infectious disease such as COVID-19, it can be effectively stopped from spreading, because there are too few people to infect. He says this is known as “herd immunity.”

“Reaching herd immunity means that even those who cannot receive the vaccination, perhaps due to some medical conditions) are protected,” says Adedapo.

To save time and money

Siani of the University of Portsmouth says vaccines have been widely recognised as one of the most time- and cost-effective medical interventions one can have.

“Receiving a vaccination only takes a few minutes and is very cheap (or, for many people, free).

“On the other hand, contracting an infectious disease means taking time off from school or work and potentially racking up hefty medical bills,” he says.

To limit drug resistance

Antimicrobial resistance has been identified by the WHO as one of the 10 greatest threats to global health (as has vaccine hesitancy). The continuous overuse of antibiotic and antiviral drugs causes bacteria and viruses to become resistant to them, resulting in untreatable infections spreading.

By preventing us from getting infected in the first place, vaccinations allow us to reduce our use of antibiotics and antivirals, therefore limiting the insurgence of drug-resistant strains of bacteria and viruses.

To restore society to normal

Who is not tired of lockdowns and restrictions? Everyone probably is.

However, for these measures to be lifted and for society to return to normal, it is important to get vaccinated so as to prevent spreading the virus when we fully start interacting with one another again.

According to medical experts, a vaccine is the best and only way to return to life as “normal,” or closer to what it was before COVID-19.

While it will take some time to roll out vaccines to everyone globally, every individual vaccinated is a step in the right direction, even as people continue to follow the safety precautions.

In addition, Siani says another benefit getting the COVID-19 vaccine offers is to be able to travel safely.

He says, “Travelling to other countries exposes you to pathogens your immune system is not familiar with. By receiving the vaccinations recommended for your destination, you’ll be able to enjoy your holiday without this risking an emergency visit to a local hospital or bringing back unwanted bugs.

“Likewise, keeping up to date with your recommended vaccination schedule protects the inhabitants of your holiday destination from any infections you may otherwise carry with you. For this reason, COVID-19 vaccines could become mandatory for travel as they are rolled out.”

To protect future generations

Siani says that over the course of history, humanity has had to coexist with many debilitating and life-threatening diseases that are now rare thanks to childhood vaccination programmes.

He says, “However, the pandemic provides a dramatic example of the devastating global effect that a single disease can have in the absence of a vaccine.

“Immunising ourselves and our children against infectious diseases today is an invaluable gift to future generations. Suppressing diseases in the present will allow people in the future to live longer and healthier lives.”

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