Expert advice on COVID vaccines

Susannah Hickling

Dr Paul McKay is a researcher at Imperial College and a member of Team Halo, which tackles vaccine misinformation on video-sharing platform TikTok.

How did you become a vaccines expert?

My PhD over 30 years ago was in immunology and molecular biology. Since then I have been working mostly in HIV vaccine development, but when the COVID-19 pandemic started, I was able to switch the target of my vaccine to the corona spike protein, which is how the virus gets into the cells.

 

How do vaccines work?

To make the immune system fight against something, we want to give it the thing it needs to fight against.

The COVID vaccine makes an artificial spike protein in our cells, which recognise it as not being our body and react against it.

 

getting vaccinated

 

Why should people be vaccinated?

The percentage of people who get very sick with COVID and go to hospital is very high. In the over 70s it’s about one in five. The vaccine protects you from getting ill and reduces the effects if you do.

Even if you don’t get very ill, COVID can have serious long-term side effects, affecting your lungs, kidneys, liver, brain or heart. You getting vaccinated also protects vulnerable people who can’t—for example, people undergoing cancer treatment.

 

Can vaccines make you ill or have long-term harmful effects?

Vaccines can give you a sore arm, headache, or slight fever. Vaccines are one of the safest medical interventions and long-term harmful effects are extremely rare.

In comparison, long-term harmful effects of the diseases we vaccinate against are not rare.

 

How do we know the COVID jab is safe, given that it was developed in a short time?

The scientists behind the Oxford vaccine had been working on it for 15 years. It was used for another respiratory virus, MERS, and has an excellent safety profile. mRNA—used in the Pfizer vaccine—is used in a drug licensed in 2018 and there have been no safety issues whatsoever.

An mRNA vaccine for rabies was first put into people in 2013.

For more information from Dr Paul, visit the Team Halo website

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