As West Australians begin to join the ranks of more than 200 million people worldwide vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, Immunologist and Clinical Professor Michaela Lucas from the UWA Medical School tells us why it’s important you build up your immune system now via vaccination before Australia opens its borders to international travel.
Why should West Australians get the COVID-19 vaccine?
The virus, known as SARS-CoV2, is showing no signs of going away any time soon, says Professor Lucas, and while WA has remained shut off and protected so far from the devastation of community spread of the virus, much of the rest of the world still has high levels of COVID-19 disease.
If you have relatives outside Australia then you would be constantly hearing about the horror stories occurring in overseas hospitals with young people dying of COVID disease or suffering serious complications.Clinical Professor Michaela Lucas
“An important way of protection from this disease is to be vaccinated,” she said. “I can understand if people are scared of new vaccines and I have seen this anxiety among my patients with allergies and autoimmune conditions.
“All I can say is, we are currently in a very fortunate situation here in WA, but if you have relatives outside Australia then you would be constantly hearing about the horror stories occurring in overseas hospitals with young people dying of COVID disease or suffering serious complications.
“I have been vaccinated and, as a doctor, I really want to protect everyone else from getting this disease because it can take a very nasty turn, with a tsunami of chronic disease expected in those who survive COVID-19 disease.
“Data coming out of the UK and the US, where millions have been vaccinated, reconfirms that these vaccines have shown a good safety profile and have an impact on reducing circulating disease, preventing serious infection, hospitalisation and death.”
How does the COVID-19 vaccine help the natural immune system?
The two COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out in Australia offer a two-tier “block andkill” protection approach, says Professor Lucas. Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines control viral infection and reduce the level of infection. The vaccines trigger the body to produce, in advance, antibodies to the spike protein of SARS-CoV2 so that as soon as the COVID virus enters the body it is recognised and stopped from binding to cell receptors. The vaccines also induce T-cells to find and destroy any COVID infected cells within the body.
“This immunity lasts for at least six months and when you boost it with a second dose, you can make these antibodies and circulating T-cells last evenlonger.”
Is a sore arm or feeling a bit “fluey” a good sign your vaccine is working?
“When you receive your vaccine, we are trying to induce a long-lasting immune response to a particle that cannot give you an infection,” said Professor Lucas. “Any immune response that your body makes will involve inflammation and inflammation will always make you feel a bit sick. We generally refer to this as ‘flu like symptoms’ - expect a possible mild to moderate headache, a low grade fever, it may make you tired and your joints and muscles might ache. You might have a sore arm and soreness in the lymph node area where you had the injection.”
As with flu vaccines, ongoing COVID-19 vaccinations may be required in the future to further build up immunity and protect against other COVID-19 variants that emerge.
Can I have the vaccine if I have allergies?
Currently serving as president of the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, Professor Lucas said her organisation had worked hard to ensure that patients with allergy and immunity issues understood that it is important for them to have the COVID-19 vaccination. Currently, the only precaution was for those who had had an adverse reaction to their first COVID vaccination and those with a known allergy to one of the other vaccine components or anaphylaxis to multiple drugs should check with their specialist first.