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20 September 2021
What you need to know about the side effects of Covid-19 vaccines
The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) has dismissed claims that people are dying after being vaccinated. SAHPRA said none of the over seven million people who have received the Covid-19 vaccine in the country, have died from receiving it.

Since May, fewer than a hundred cases of adverse reactions have been reported to SAHPRA. While people had died after receiving a dose of the vaccine, they had not died from the vaccine itself. Investigations into Covid-19 deaths revealed that people died either because they had contracted the virus before vaccination, or contracted it soon after being vaccinated.

UWC’s Director of Research and Development, virologist Professor Burtram Fielding, said the most common vaccine side-effects are akin to those experienced after receiving non-Covid-19 vaccines, and can be quite broad. Typically symptoms include pain at the site of inoculation, diarrhoea, chills, muscle pain and fever.

The response to a vaccine is dependent on the person’s immune system and physiological state, said Prof Fielding. “As soon as we administer the vaccine, the person’s immune system is triggered. And because the immune system is triggered, some people can experience side-effects, while others do not.”

For those who receive a two-shot dose - in South Africa this is the Pfizer vaccine - more people experience side-effects after the second jab. “After the first shot the activation of the immune system starts. After the second shot, it’s an optimal immune system, or immune reaction, and that’s why we can see more of those side-effects,” explained Prof Fielding.

Prof Fielding added that after receiving the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, there’s an immediate optimal activation of the immune system, and side-effects can be experienced. While side-effects are an indication that a person’s immune system is being activated, Prof Fielding said it did not mean that if someone doesn’t experience these the vaccine is not working.

“Different people behave differently because of their physiological state and their immune system.”

A major fear for many are reports of blood-clotting issues related to Covid-19 vaccines. But Prof Fielding said this was rare. Another extremely rare side-effect is the inflammation of the heart muscle.

“If you look at the number of cases reported for both the blood clot and the inflammation of the heart muscle, it's very small. It’s a fraction of the percentage if you look at the billions of doses administered worldwide,” said Prof Fielding.

“The good thing is that both of these can be treated. The adverse side-effects are so extremely rare, but we need to be aware that there is that minimal risk.”

He recommended that your primary health care provider be contacted if side-effects are still experienced four days after receiving a vaccine. Minor side effects, however, typically disappear within three days.