Amid concerns around rates of take-up in our younger population, Lisa Smyth debunks some of the myths surrounding the Covid-19 inoculations.
The infection rate in young people is significantly higher than in older people — 6,536 people aged up to 39 have tested positive in the past week, compared to just 767 people aged 60 and over.
However, as of midnight on Monday, there were four people up to 19 years old in hospital with Covid-19 and a further 25 Covid-19 inpatients aged between 20 and 39.
This compares to 150 people aged over 60 in hospital with the virus at midnight on Monday.
So, while younger people are less likely to end up seriously ill with Covid-19, there is always the possibility that even children can be hospitalised and even die.
That also doesn’t take into consideration the danger posed by long Covid, which is proving to be extremely debilitating across the age spectrum.
The short answer is no.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use mRNA to instruct the body to build the Covid-19 spike protein.
DNA is not the same as mRNA — DNA is in the middle of the cell, whereas the mRNA vaccines do their work in the part of the cell outside of the nucleus. The mRNA does not enter the cell’s nucleus, so it cannot alter your DNA.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doesn’t use mRNA. Instead it uses a weakened version of adenovirus, delivering genetic instructions to the cells.
After the genetic instructions in mRNA and adenovirus vaccines have been delivered to the cells, they are broken down and disappear from the body within a few days.
In any ordinary situation, it takes years, even decades, to get a vaccine into the arms of the general population.
All vaccines must pass rigorous safety checks and go through a series of trials before they are approved by regulators. Covid-19 vaccinations are no different.
They have been through all of the same trials, but the process has been significantly sped up.
Queen’s University virologist Dr Connor Bamford explained: “Ordinarily, vaccine trials are very risk averse whereas with the Covid vaccines, they were already thinking about the later phases while carrying out the earlier phases.
“Also, a lot of time is normally spent trying to get funding for trials, whereas the trials for the Covid vaccines had a lot of money behind them, making the whole process a lot quicker.”
There are still so many unknowns about Covid-19.
Every day, we are finding out more and more about this virus that has crippled the world and we now know that it is possible to become reinfected after previously falling ill.
What we don’t know, however, is how long immunity lasts after a Covid-19 infection, so it is impossible to say that anyone is completely safe after they recover from the illness.
The World Health Organization is very clear on the subject: “Even if you have already had Covid-19, you should be vaccinated when it is offered to you.
“The protection that someone gains from having Covid-19 will vary from person to person, and we also don’t know how long natural immunity might last.”
The medicines regulators in the UK, Europe and US have said there have been a small number of cases of inflammation of the heart muscle and the lining around the heart following the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
According to the British Heart Foundation, these have mostly affected young men aged between 12 and 29, usually within two weeks of the second dose.
The charity said: “The illness has been generally mild and those affected have mostly quickly felt better with treatments and rest.
“The vaccine is still recommended and the risks of Covid-19 illness are much greater than the risks of the vaccine.
“It’s also important to remember that Covid-19 itself can cause myocarditis.”
There are examples of a serious condition involving blood clots and unusual bleeding after the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Some people have suffered life-changing effects and some have died.
However, it is vital to remember that just over 10 people for every million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine given have developed the condition.
But even more dangerous is the risk of developing a blood clot as a result of catching Covid-19, which is known to affect the consistency of the blood.
In February, a specialist nurse working in the Belfast Trust warned that people coping with minor Covid-19 infections at home were suffering potentially deadly blood clots on their lungs and in their legs.
And in May, it was announced the under-40s wouldn’t be offered the AstraZeneca vaccine due to the blood clot risk.
Vaccines can stop most people from getting sick with Covid-19, but not everyone.
Even after someone takes all of the recommended doses and waits a few weeks for immunity to build up, there is still a chance that they can get infected.
However, according to recently released official figures, two-thirds of Covid-19 inpatients in Northern Ireland have not been vaccinated, which suggests the vaccines are stopping people from becoming seriously ill.
In April, Public Health England reported the results of a large study of Covid-19 transmission involving more than 365,000 households with a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated members.
It found immunisation with either the Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccine reduced transmission. If someone became infected after being vaccinated, they were only around half as likely to pass their infection on to others compared to infected people who weren’t vaccinated.
The British Fertility Society and Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists have advised that there is absolutely no evidence, and no theoretical reason, that any of the vaccines can affect the fertility of women or men.
People of reproductive age are advised to have the vaccine.
This includes those who are trying to have a baby as well as those who are thinking about having a baby, whether that is in the near future or in a few years’ time.
There have been unfounded rumours circulating widely that Covid-19 vaccines could cause infertility because of a similarities in the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 and proteins in cells in the placenta.
There are no similarities between these proteins that could feasibly cause the immune system to affect the placenta.
There is also no evidence that the immune response to the spike protein – either from infection with Covid-19 itself, or from the vaccine – has had any effect on the placenta or pregnancy outcomes.
No vaccine is 100% effective, but the statistics are clear – the number of people becoming seriously unwell and even dying from Covid-19 is significantly lower since the vaccination programme began.
At this stage, however, the trajectory of the pandemic is unclear and we have learnt over the past 18-months that there are no guarantees when it comes to Covid-19.
At the end of the day, getting vaccinated may not result in a better outcome for each and every person who receives the jab, but it will help cut the overall number of cases, reduce the chance of a dangerous variant developing, and make another lockdown less likely.