Re: News has collected some of the concerns around the Covid-19 vaccine. These come from people like you, who follow and comment on our content, our friends and whānau, and our own team members.
We’ve put together stories unpacking them, hopefully easing worries around unknowns, and providing information for conversations in your families and communities. We hope you find it useful.
First up, the myth that the Covid-19 vaccine isn’t safe because it was rushed and is still on trial.
Let me give you 5 reasons why this isn’t true.
1: Authorised Covid-19 vaccines are still being monitored, but that doesn’t mean they are experimental or unsafe.
There is a misunderstanding that because the trial end date for the Pfizer vaccine is in 2023, the vaccine must be "experimental".
But this is wrong. The Pfizer vaccine stopped being experimental once it passed its efficacy and safety standards in late 2020. The end date of 2023 means that clinical trials will continue to monitor the vaccine to learn more about the effect of a booster dose and or the need for any tweaks to its rollout.
According to the Reuters fact checking team, it’s normal for vaccine trials to last years, sometimes decades - even when the vaccine is already in use. That’s how we get all of this important information.
2: Covid-19 vaccines were developed and tested rapidly because the entire world was invested.
The speed at which Covid-19 vaccines were developed, tested, and approved is not surprising (or alarming) when we think about how many countries and pharmaceutical companies prioritised and funnelled significant resources into finding a vaccine.
The emergency situation warranted an emergency response but this does not mean that the vaccine bypassed safety protocols or skipped out critical testing.
In 2020, the FDA (the US Food and Drug Administration) approved the emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine based on less data than what is usually required. This is because waiting for months or years for more data would result in thousands more people being infected and dying of Covid-19.
To get emergency authorisation, the data still has to clearly show the vaccines are safe and effective. So rigorous testing still occurs - just over a shorter period of time. Some vaccine developers also conducted some of the steps on an overlapping schedule to gather this data faster.
3: Medsafe made their vaccine approval process more efficient for the Covid-19 vaccine
In response to the urgency of Covid-19, Medsafe, which is New Zealand’s medicine safety authority, made changes to how it assesses vaccines. The Ministry of Health website states they now:
- Assess large volumes of data from pharmaceutical companies as soon as it becomes available. Previously, pharmaceutical companies would send all the data at once after all the studies have been completed.
- Medsafe requires Pfizer to respond to its questions within a week - previously pharmaceutical companies would have up to four months to respond.
This is how the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine has been granted provisional approval in New Zealand.
What is provisional approval?
'Provisional approval' was included in the Medicines Act 1981 as a way of giving New Zealanders access to urgent treatment. It is not something new that’s popped up because of Covid-19 vaccines.
In emergency situations, it can allow a vaccine to be used with conditions in place.
In this case, according to Medsafe, the conditions include Pfizer giving Medsafe ongoing data and information, such as additional clinical trial and manufacturing data, as well as reporting to show that it meets international standards.
Provisional approval can be given to any vaccine that is administered to the public before long-term data is available. It can only be granted when a vaccine has been clinically tested and formally approved for safe use.
4: The vaccine was developed quickly because we already had a blueprint
John Hopkins Medicine says the Pfizer vaccine was created with a method that has been in development for several years, so companies could start the vaccine development process immediately because they already had the blueprint.
The virus that causes Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is also related to previous outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). This meant scientists already had experience with similar coronaviruses and developing vaccines to immunise against them.
5: Social media and the notoriety of Covid-19 made it easy to find participants for vaccine trials
Another reason why the vaccine could be rolled out so quickly is because social media and the severity of the pandemic meant companies quickly found willing participants to be involved in clinical trials, a process that can take much longer for less publicised treatments.
You can book your vaccine (or choose a walk-in site) at bookmyvaccine.nz.
Still have more questions about the vaccine? Check out our new series that breaks down popular myths and concerns about Covid-19 and the vaccine.