On March 27, 2021, it will be three months since the vaccination program against the SARS-CoV 2 virus that causes COVID-19 began in Poland. By then, despite interruptions in the supply of vaccines, about 5 million Poles have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, which means that the percentage of vaccinated Poles ranks at 8.58 percent. At this rate, collective immunity, which would mean the end of the pandemic, will be reached in about 28 months – i.e. July 2023.
As early as January of this year, Dr. Bartosz Fialek warned that too slow a pace of vaccination inevitably goes hand in hand with the occurrence of further epidemic waves, which can only be contained by extending restrictions throughout the country. Poland has seen a long-predicted increase in COVID-19 infections in recent weeks, with the Health Ministry reporting 27,278 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection last week – the highest number since last November. Due to the so-called “third wave,” hotels, shopping malls, theaters, museums, art galleries, cinemas and sports venues, among others, must suspend their operations nationwide until April 9, and children in grades 1-3 are switching to remote learning mode. The pre-Christmas lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of the virus by limiting the mobility of the population is only an ad hoc measure and still does not address the core of the problem – the too-slow pace of vaccination.
How to speed up the vaccination process in Poland and prevent a fourth wave? Unfortunately, improving logistics and getting the next supply of vaccines on time is not the only challenge that stands in the way of building collective immunity and returning to relative normality. A recent poll by UCE Research and Syno Poland, commissioned by the editorial board of Gazeta Wyborcza, shows that the number of people who want to be vaccinated against COVID-19 has declined and now stands at 52 percent. It can be speculated that this downward trend has to do with recent reports on the side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine, in particular the increased risk of thromboembolic events.
Many people are now asking themselves: is the vaccine safe? How do people who have already received the shot feel? In an era of limited social contact, not everyone has the chance to talk to a specialist before vaccination and get all their doubts resolved. Many people look for answers on the Internet and come across chilling headlines: from “Young teacher died a week after COVID-19 vaccination. The case is being investigated by the prosecutor’s office,” to “A 28-year-old doctor is dead. He took part in tests of the coronavirus vaccine,” to “Prominent doctors have serious doubts about the safety of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.”
To date, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has given the green light to three vaccines for COVID-19 made by Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca. The first two vaccines incorporate a section of nucleic acid mRNA encoding the SARS-CoV2 virus-specific protein S conformation information. AstraZeneca’s vaccine is based on a different technique and consists of another suitably modified virus that contains the gene encoding protein S. Regardless of the type of vaccine adopted, the effect is the same – the human immune system learns to recognize the coronavirus (protein S acts as an antigen) and produces the appropriate antibodies. Thanks to the production of immune memory, when we come into contact with the coronavirus, we are protected from contracting COVID-19.
No live SARS-CoV2 virus can be found in any of the vaccines on the market, so contracting COVID-19 is not possible. Nevertheless, it should be remembered that the coronavirus vaccine, like any active substance introduced into the human body, carries the risk of side effects that may mimic the course of the infection. Vaccinated patients most often complained of pain at the injection site (88.2%), fatigue (65.3%), headache (58.6%), muscle pain (58.0%), joint pain (42.8%), chills (44.2%), nausea (19.0%) and fever (15.5%.) Side effects tended to occur after the second dose of the specific and disappeared within a few days. Serious side effects, i.e. nervous system dysfunction, strokes, heart attacks, occurred with similar frequency in vaccinated patients (1.0%, 147 cases) and those who were given a placebo (1.0%, 153 cases).
Recently, reports on the side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine have begun to appear online. Although the vaccine has undergone rigorous testing in the clinical trial phase, the European Medicines Agency and the British Medicines Agency have decided to conduct additional studies. The reported side effects of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 Vaccine were carefully evaluated and an opinion was issued on March 18, 2021, which showed that the number of thromboembolic incidents in people who took AstraZeneca’s vaccine was lower than in the general population. Four days later, on March 22 of this year, the results of an interim analysis of the Phase III study conducted by AstraZeneca in the US were announced. The study showed efficacy of 80% in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 and 100% efficacy in protecting against severe disease and hospitalization. There was also no increased risk of thrombosis. Piotr Najbuk, AstraZeneca’s director of external relations, noted that thanks to the decision not to withhold vaccination in Poland, many thousands of people had a better chance of avoiding a severe course of the disease, complications and death.
This is not the first time that individual social media reports have shattered the order of the vaccination program. So far, the most fuss has been caused by Wolfgang Wodarg and Michael Yeardon, who sent a letter to the European Medicines Agency about the alleged negative effects of the vaccine on female fertility. It all started with reports circulating on the Internet that a protein on the surface of the virus was identical to the syncytin 1 protein involved in the formation of the placenta during pregnancy. False reports suggested that the COVID-19 vaccine would program the body so that it would recognize its own proteins as false and sabotage further pregnancy development. These allegations have no support in scientific studies, but have nevertheless managed to alienate many women from vaccination.
All scientists unanimously call for the discussion of vaccinations to be based on hard scientific data. There is not the slightest doubt that vaccination is the best tool in the fight against a pandemic, so delaying the process because of isolated social media reports is the worst possible scenario. I join the experts’ call and encourage you to vaccinate according to the guidelines.