All you need to know about the Covid-19 vaccine

As the country’s vaccination programme is rolled out to more age groups – with over-35s able to register from tomorrow, Thursday July 15 – there are still many things which may be unclear. In this article, the Western Cape Health Department answers some frequently asked questions.

Provincial department of health spokesperson Monique Johnstone said the department had received a number of queries regarding the National Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) Registration system, correspondence about appointments and allocated sites.

She also said there had been much frustration among those who may not have received their second SMS and were attending sites as walk-ins or have been booked to attend vaccination sites outside their place of residence.

When you have received your second SMS from the EVDS Registration system and you are booked outside of your area, you should contact the Provincial Call Centre on 0860 142 142 to make arrangements to attend a vaccination site closer to your place of residence. You should take your proof of ID and have the message on hand so that you can be accommodated at the allocated site. Depending on the capacity at the nearest site, you may need to wait for an available slot or be allocated an alternative slot.

All booked clients who received their second SMS (date and venue) will be prioritised. This means that booked clients will be seen first and walk-in clients presenting to a facility without a booked confirmation will be seen after if there are sufficient vaccines left for the day.

Registration and vaccinations are available for over-50s and those over 60 who are not vaccinated are urged to access their local vaccination site for their vaccine. Staff will also be available to assist with registration.

People are urged to make every effort to make their vaccination appointment and date because the local teams are carefully planning for each day. However, if you do miss your vaccination, you will have two more scheduling opportunities provided. This new appointment will be sent via SMS. You can also call the National Call Centre number on 0800 029 999 to reschedule another appointment.

Many residents are concerned as they have registered early and not received their SMS confirming their appointment. The provincial health department has been given partial control over the scheduling of appointments, which will now enable their local teams to control the distribution of scheduled appointments at each site in the province. Their teams will now be working to align the registrations with the scheduling and aim to provide a 3- to 7-day lead time, going forward, so that residents have enough time to get to their vaccination site. They will make sure that sites are selected close to where the person lives.

If you are concerned that you have registered early and have still not received your second SMS, you can contact the Provincial Call Centre on 0860 142 142.

Despite the vaccination programme going ahead, everyone still needs to keep practising the preventative measures to keep safe from being infected with Covid-19. Always wear a mask when in public, avoid large gatherings and confined spaces with poor ventilation. In addition, please reconsider non-essential travel.

It is also very important to not go for the vaccination if you have symptoms of Covid-19, as you will not be vaccinated at the site and you risk compromising the safety of others. You will have to wait 30 days after your symptoms start and have recovered and completed your isolation period before receiving your vaccine. If you took the flu-vaccine, then you should wait 14 days before going for your vaccination.

When you are getting the vaccine, you will get an injection in your upper arm.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is given as two doses, 6 weeks – or 42 days – apart. The department will send you an SMS with your appointment date for your second dose.

Protection starts around two weeks after the first injection but is best two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

All Covid-19 vaccines being used have been tested many times to ensure safety and were created to check for any common side effects, said Ms Johnstone.

Common side effects are pain and redness in the upper arm where you are injected, headache, and feeling unwell, tired, and feverish. These side effects start around 6 hours after the vaccine, peak at 24 hours and usually resolve within 2 to 3 days. You can use paracetamol or an anti-inflammatory if you need to.

Several common vaccine side effects are like Covid-19 symptoms. If you experience a mild fever, aching muscles, headache, or fatigue, this is likely due to your body’s reaction to the vaccine. If you develop a cough, sore throat, a change in your sense of taste or smell, or you have a fever over 38°C that lasts several days, you might have Covid-19 and should isolate yourself and have a test.

If you have an underlying medical condition or chronic illness, you have a greater risk of severe illness from Covid-19. Because of this, you should consider getting vaccinated.

Anticoagulant medications (like warfarin) – as with any injection, there is a small risk of bleeding at the injection site. If you are up to date with your scheduled international normalised ratio (INR) testing and your latest INR was below the upper threshold of your therapeutic range, you can receive the vaccination safely. The rare clotting condition described following the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is brought about through different pathways to usual clotting problems. People with usual clotting problems are at increased risk of developing clots during infection with Covid-19 and are urged to take up vaccination. If you have any concerns speak to your usual healthcare provider or vaccination site staff.

“You should still be vaccinated if you’ve already had Covid-19 or if you’ve had a positive antibody test. So far, we know that the natural immunity from having Covid-19 may not last or provide protection as good as that following vaccination,” she said.

If you currently are in quarantine because of exposure to someone with Covid-19, you should wait until you have completed your 10-day quarantine period, before getting vaccinated. If you have had Covid-19 you should wait 30 days after your symptoms start and remember to isolate for 10 days. If you cannot safely quarantine or isolate at home, contact the provincial Call Centre on 0860 142 142 to be placed in a safe isolation and quarantine facility.

Remember over-50s and 60s, can register at no cost by using the USSD service: dial *134*832# from your phone to start the registration process or send the word “REGISTER” to 0600 123 456 on WhatsApp or visit http://vaccine.enroll.health.gov.za. You can also access this link on our website, www.westerncape.gov.za