Questions about side effects of COVID-19 vaccines answered

Directions towards one of the 32 central vaccination locations in the Netherlands. As of April there will be up to 100 vaccination locations, says the Government of the Netherlands. Photograph: Kian Seara Ray.

Multiple young people feel hesitant about COVID-19 vaccines, because they fear the side effects. Their questions are answered by Thijs van der Heijden, a biomedical sciences master student with specialisations in infectious diseases and international public health.

Victoria Deniel is scared of the consequences of the vaccine. This is because her body reacted badly to medication before, like the birth control pill. Others are worried about people suggesting potential fertility problems. One of them is Oliver Roder, who wonders if he will be able to get children.

It is important that people make a well-informed decision about whether they want to be vaccinated. A reason is that if fewer people get vaccinated, herd immunity is less effective. Vaccinations block the spread of COVID-19 and lower the amount of people carrying the virus. This decreases the pressure on the hospitals and makes it possible to relax the coronavirus-related restrictions.

Explanation of herd immunity. Picture: Tkarcher.

Victoria Deniel is not looking forward to the injection: “I am scared. How do I know how my body will react? What are the side effects?”

Thijs van der Heijden explains that side effects are often redness, swollenness and stiffness on the place of injection. Fever is less common. The side effects can be explained by the activation of the immune response. The reason is that during vaccination a little piece of the genetic code (mRNA code) of the protein of COVID-19 is injected together with compounds that enhance the immune system’s reaction and memory, to combat the virus.

Only when someone has an underlying condition or uses certain medicines, rare side effects can show up. That is why prior to vaccination people are asked about allergies, medicines and surgeries.

“Does vaccination influence fertility?” asks Oliver Roders.

The vaccines do not influence fertility, says Van der Heijden after reading information of the National Institute for Public Health and Environment. He knows this information is based on research and data of the European Medicines Agency. Studies show that there is no safety concern for pregnant women, but there is not much data from clinical trails. So vaccination during pregnancy is not recommended. If a person has a high risk of severe illness, doctors can be consulted about the options.

“For some people there are side effects, but the COVID-19 vaccines are not harmful for the majority of people. They would not be approved if they were,” highlights Van der Heijden.

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