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What should I know about COVID-19 vaccines?

Why are COVID-19 vaccines important?

The current COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis, with devastating health, social, and economic impact. COVID-19 can cause severe disease and death with yet unknown long-term consequences in people of all ages, including in otherwise healthy people.

Safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19 can protect individuals from becoming ill, especially healthcare professionals and vulnerable populations, such as older people or those with chronic diseases.

The COVID-19 vaccines were developed within a year. Is that safe?

Yes it is safe. Because the COVID-19 pandemic has had such an impact on a global level, the development of COVID-19 vaccines was prioritized. The development of the COVID-19 vaccine is going fast for a number of reasons:

    The COVID-19 virus is similar to the SARS virus that caused an epidemic in 2003 so some knowledge was already available.

    Different stakeholders are working on the development simultaneously and share their


    Different stages of the trials are done simultaneously instead of sequentially. However, none of the required steps can be skipped in any trial or approval process.

    Because COVID-19 vaccines are prioritized, time, money and manpower are dedicated to

trials and approval processes. For other vaccines, medical researchers often have to wait for funding or until enough volunteers are recruited in order to perform a new stage in the trial.

Is it mandatory to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

No, it is not mandatory to get the COVID-19 vaccine. It is highly recommended to get the COVID-19 vaccine once it is made available and you have no contra-indications.

By getting vaccinated you not only protect yourself but also your friends, family and other persons you care about from getting sick from COVID-19.

If more persons are vaccinated, COVID-19 will have less of a chance to spread.

This means that less people get severely ill, less people die, the healthcare system is less burdened, and less people have to stay home from work or school.

Do I need to pay for the vaccine?

No, you do not need to pay.


Which vaccine will be distributed on Sint Maarten?

It is expected that in early 2021, a COVID-19 vaccine will become available for Sint Maarten. Limited doses of vaccines will become available at first. It is expected that later in 2021 the availability will increase substantially.

The two COVID-19 vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) at the time of writing (8 January 2021) are BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna. Another possible candidate is the vaccine from Astrazeneca. The brand and quantity of vaccines, including timelines for distribution depend on the policy of the Dutch government.

Any vaccine is approved only after being tested through clinical trials under strict international regulations and meeting all requirements. Only approved vaccines will be distributed and administered to the population.

    BioNTech/Pfizer (Comirnaty)

This vaccine is called Comirnaty and is developed by BioNTech/Pfizer. It was approved by the European Medicines Agency on 21 December 2020. It needs to be administered in two doses with at least 21 days in between in order to be effective. This vaccine reduces the chance of getting COVID-19 drastically, by 95%.

    Moderna

This is the vaccine that is developed by Moderna. It was approved by the European

Medicines Agency on 6 January 2021. It needs to be administered in two doses with at least

28 days in between in order to be effective. This vaccine also reduces the chance of getting

COVID-19 drastically, by 94%.

    AstraZeneca (Oxford vaccine)

The Oxford vaccine developed by AstraZeneca is undergoing the approval process by the

European Medicines Agency at the time of writing, 8 January 2021.

Who will get the vaccine?

The advice of the Health Council in the Netherlands is to prioritize persons at increased risk of spreading COVID-19 and persons with increased risk of getting severely ill when they get COVID-9. The advice put forward to the Minister of VSA is in line with that of the Health Council. Dependent on Ministerial approval, the groups are subdivided as follows:

    Persons at increased risk of getting or spreading COVID-19: healthcare workers, persons with disabilities/developmental/behavioural disorders attending day care centres, long term care facilities or receiving nursing care at home

    Persons with increased risk of getting severely ill when they get COVID-19: persons with underlying conditions that are identified as risk factors for severe COVID-19 and/or persons of age 60 years or older

Persons from the respective groups will be notified as soon as the vaccine becomes available for their group.

In later phases, the vaccine will be offered to everyone on the island.

As you await to obtain information on who and when persons will be vaccinated you are encouraged to continue taking steps to protect yourself, your family and friends from COVID-19. You are recommended to stay in tune to the news and communication channels from CPS and Government

of Sint Maarten.

Who should not get the vaccine (yet)?

    It is not advised to administer the BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccine to the following groups until more research is done to ensure the highest standard of safety for these specific groups:

o  Pregnant and breastfeeding women

o  Children under 16 years old

o  Immunocompromised persons including persons receiving immunosuppressant therapy

All vaccines are thoroughly tested on tens of thousands of persons in medical trials before they are approved. However, the above groups were not included in the trials yet. Even though we expect it to be harmless for these groups as well, we will await the results of further research and approval for these specific groups.

    The following persons should consult a medical professional in order to decide whether any vaccine is safe to take:

o  Severe allergic (anaphylactic) reaction to a vaccine, medication or food in the past.

o  Persons with severe coagulation disorders because the injection can cause bruising or bleeding.

    The following persons should delay their COVID-19 vaccination:

o  Acute severe infection or acute febrile illness at time of the planned vaccination.

These persons should delay the vaccination until symptoms have subsided. Persons with mild infection symptoms do not need to delay.

o  Current or recent confirmed COVID-19 infection. Persons who have had a COVID-19

infection can get a COVID-19 vaccine. However, the vaccine should be given at least

4 weeks after onset of symptoms or positive COVID-19 test result in order to distinguish between infection symptoms and vaccine side effects.

o  Suspected COVID-19 infection. Persons with symptoms possibly related to COVID-19 should not come to the vaccination station. They should get tested and wait for their results first.

What the vaccine does and what it does not

The BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both mRNA vaccines. This means they contain mRNA particles. The mRNA particle contains instructions to produce a protein that is specific for COVID-19 virus particles. Once your body cells come in contact with this protein they will react by producing antibodies to the COVID-19 virus. If you later get the actual COVID-19 virus, your body will have

these antibodies ready and prevent you from getting sick. We currently do not know to what extent the vaccine prevents you from spreading the virus to others.

An mRNA vaccine does not alter your genes or change anything in your body’s DNA in any way. The mRNA cannot reach your DNA and will be broken down by the body in a natural way a few days after the vaccine is given. After that, the antibodies that were produced by your body will stay.

How long is the vaccine effective?

At this point in time it is not known how long the vaccine will protect you from getting sick from the

COVID-19 virus.

After complete vaccination (1 or 2 doses depending on the vaccine), additional vaccines may need to be re-administered after a certain amount of time to ensure sustained protection.

How is the vaccine given?

The vaccine is given by an injection in the muscle of the upper arm.

What are the side effects?

All vaccines can give side effects. These side effects are mostly expressions of the immune response that your body is supposed to create induced by the vaccine.

The most common side effects of the BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccine are similar to those of other vaccines. They are mostly mild, harmless and subside after 1-3 days.

The most common side effects for the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine are:

    Pain, swelling or redness on the site where the vaccine was injected

    Headache

    Tiredness

    Muscle pain

    Fever

The most common side effects for the Moderna vaccine are:

    Pain, swelling or redness on the site where the vaccine was injected

    Headache

    Tiredness

    Muscle pain

    Fever or chills

    Joint pain

    Nausea or vomiting

    Swelling of axillary lymph nodes (under the armpit)

A rare side effect that has been observed with all vaccines is a severe allergic (anaphylactic) reaction shortly after administering the vaccine. For the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, 4 out of the 1.5 million persons who received the vaccine showed an anaphylactic reaction.

At all vaccination locations, all persons receiving the vaccine will be monitored under the guidance of a physician to monitor for immediate adverse events after receiving the vaccine and ensure appropriate medical care when needed.

What about long term side effects?

Any side effects that have been observed until now resolve within in a few days. It is very unlikely that there will be long term side effects from these vaccines since the vaccine induces a natural immune reaction from your body and the mRNA from the vaccine is broken down and excreted in a natural way by your body. As for all vaccines, there will be ongoing monitoring and registration of any occurring side effects.

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