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Ask the expert: Dr Dimitrios Kollios answers your COVID-19 vaccine questions

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Worried about whether the vaccines provide protection against the Delta variant or they interfere with our genome sequence? Are you unsure about the long term effects of the vaccines?

General Practictioner (GP) Dr Dimitrios (Jim) Kollios, from M3 Health In Hobsons Bay answers your questions.

-Do the vaccines provide protection against the Delta variant?

It has become the major issue as it is more contagious than previous variants and might cause more severe illness. It is also affecting our children more than the original strain.

Fortunately, the vaccines are still very effective against the Delta strain. Both the AZ and Pfizer vaccines give close to 90% protection against the virus once you have been fully vaccinated.

Despite their protection dropping away over time they are still very effective. Time will tell if we will need further booster over time. The data is not in at present.

If you get infected after you’re vaccinated, it is likely to be mild rather than severe disease. Therefore, vaccination is absolutely worth it – both to protect yourself and to reduce transmission to our family and community.

-Why get vaccinated and not let our immune system fight the disease?

Covid infection is a serious disease and not just like the flu. We would never entertain to let people get polio, small pox or measles etc but we vaccinate our children to prevent serious life-threatening illness with possible long-term detriment.

COVID-19 can cause severe disease and death not only in older people and those with existing health conditions but also in younger people as we have seen with the recent outbreak.

I have treated younger people that have had ongoing severe respiratory illness a year after Covid infection. We need to protect ourselves irrespective of our age and health status as corona virus can have severe impact on our health.

Secondly, by getting vaccinated we protect others around us that are more vulnerable.

Thirdly we protect our health system – our hospitals and medical systems would be completely overwhelmed if we let the pandemic run without majority of us being vaccinated. If our hospitals are overrun that would result in all of us being at risk even from other illnesses which we take for granted will be managed in our hospitals. 

There are further reasons for getting vaccinated which are covered in my opinion piece at the end.

-What is the point of vaccination if you can still catch or spread COVID-19? 

The point of vaccination is to limit this impact. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech (Pfizer) and Oxford-AstraZeneca (AstraZeneca) vaccines have been shown to reduce a person’s risk of contracting the virus and your risk of dying or needing to be hospitalised from COVID-19. 

People who are vaccinated have been shown to be less likely to spread the virus too. So, the more people get vaccinated, the more our entire population will be protected. Fully vaccinated people with Delta variant breakthrough infections can spread the virus to others. 

However, vaccinated people appear to be infectious for a shorter period: 

It is because even vaccinated people can get the virus and spread the virus that we must still practice social distancing, wearing of masks in crowded indoor settings, hand hygiene, and staying at home when we are unwell.

– The vaccines have not been tested long enough. How do we know there won’t be long-term effects?

There is a perception that these vaccines have been rushed at the expense of possible safety. In reality the world concentrated their efforts, with unprecedented levels of funding provided and research to get the vaccines. Finding a solution to the pandemic, which became a world-wide crisis became paramount all around the world. 

Researchers all over the world were concentrating on finding a vaccine with new technologies helping them understand the coronavirus earlier and hence working on vaccine design earlier.

In reality it is a triumph of human endeavour working together to find a solution to a common problem for humanity rather than a rushed process. We should celebrate that spirit not fear it.

In Australia the vaccines went through the normal approval mechanisms by the TGA  – a stamp that they are safe and effective. They were not rushed through as an emergency 

Vaccines have been the cornerstone of illness prevention and hence we have great knowledge in manufacturing safe vaccines. The Covid vaccines are built on this knowledge.

– Do the vaccines interfere with our genome sequence?

The vaccines do not affect our DNA or our genome sequence to fear harmful future effects.

The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 and Moderna vaccines use a fragment of messenger RNA (mRNA) to instruct your body to make an immune response against COVID-19. 

They do not alter our DNA. 

DNA is stored in the protected centre of our cells – the nucleus. The mRNA is broken down quickly by the body. It never enters the nucleus, and cannot affect or combine with our DNA in any way to change our genetic code. 

Instead, COVID-19 mRNA vaccines teach the cell how to make a protein that triggers an immune response specific to COVID-19. The vaccines work with the body’s natural defences to develop immunity to disease.

-Do the vaccines affect fertility?

It is Covid 19 infection that should be the fear and which can cause problems in all aspects of fertility and sexual function yet rumours and myths about COVID-19 vaccine have spread widely across social media platforms. People blaming erectile dysfunction and fertility issues on the vaccines. 

Yet studies so far have not linked the vaccines with problems related to pregnancy, menstrual cycles, erectile performance or sperm quality.

The monitoring of hundreds of millions of vaccinations support the safety of the shots.  

The conclusion of the evidence suggests – Vaccination is not associated with adverse effects in pregnancy. COVID-19 is the real threat.

– Is it safe to vaccinate my kid?

The Pfizer (Comirnaty) vaccine has been approved for children aged 12 years and over with children at risk to be prioritised.

Opinion by Dr Dimitrios Kollios

Humanity in time of adversity has come together to support, protect and look out for each other against a common enemy. It is my prayer that, that great quality comes out in our common fight against this virus. It should unite and not divide us. We must be driven by the common good rather than selfish individual motives.

We will only get through the crisis if we have that unity and sense of goodwill to others.

This virus is not a risk to me as an Individual, or to my family, or to my extended community, not even to us as a nation. The risk is to the whole world and we must adopt that world view. 

We need to help all the nations get vaccinated, and then we may all experience some normality in all our lives.

The more a virus is able to replicate and spread in a population, the greater the likelihood of mutations of consequence. Where the environment permits highly transmissible variants, we also expect disease severity to go up.

But if we halt transmission, we can suppress the spread of variants. This is why vaccinations are an essential part of a pandemic response. They drive transmission down, and drive the virus evolution towards less severe disease outcomes.

Getting vaccinated is beneficial on a personal basis but essential for all of us.

We owe it to ourselves and the world to assist less wealthy countries get their vaccinations up as well as ours.

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