Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

New coronavirus vaccine side effects -

An increasing number of studies offered additional data about vaccine efficacy in recent weeks.

Israel has shown that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine works in real-life conditions just as well as it does in clinical trials.

The vaccine effectively prevents severe COVID-19, hospitalizations, and deaths — even when facing the UK mutation. Researchers in Great Britain have come to similar conclusions, offering efficacy data for people who received only one dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca/Oxford drugs. Separately, studies have shown that COVID-19 survivors mount the same immune response after one dose as people who never had COVID-19 get from two doses.

After almost three months of vaccinations in North America, Europe, Israel, and other countries, it’s also clear that the side effects are minimal.

The most common adverse reactions include pain at the injection site and brief flu-like symptoms, especially after the second dose. But researchers have learned more details about coronavirus vaccine side effects in recent months. Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has just updated its vaccine guidelines with three adverse effects people should be aware of.

Just a few days ago, researchers warned people that one specific mild COVID-19 vaccine side effect could appear several days after the first or second dose, rather than immediately: skin issues, including redness and rashes. These adverse reactions were observed after the Moderna jabs — especially after the first dose. They’re not a cause of concern, and they tend to disappear on their own within a few days.

The new guidelines include nine possible coronavirus vaccine side effects

The CDC made a few changes to its coronavirus vaccine guidelines on Friday, adding three new side effects to the list. Initially, the agency described six potential adverse reactions. Two are local (pain and swelling), and four are systemic (fever, chills, tiredness, and headache), as seen below:

Daily COVID-19 Vaccine Update in US, Canada, UK, Europe and around the World
Coronavirus vaccine side effects listed in CDC guideline before March 5. Image source: CDC via Wayback Machine

The new guidelines include nine possible coronavirus vaccine side effects. In addition to pain and swelling on the arm where the shot is administered, people might also experience redness. As for the systemic reactions, the CDC added muscle pain and nausea to the list. Muscle pain should not be confused with pain at the site of injection.

Daily COVID-19 Vaccine Update: Warned of Coronavirus Vaccine Side effects and New Variants
Coronavirus vaccine side effects listed in CDC guideline after March 5. Image source: CDC

The CDC also reminds people that it’s not recommended to take these medications before vaccination in an effort to prevent the side effects.

After vaccination, people can use cool, wet cloths over the vaccine area to reduce pain and discomfort, and use or exercise the arm. Drinking plenty of fluids and dressing lightly can help with the general side effects that might appear. The CDC advises people to inform their doctors if these side effects do not go away after a few days. If the redness or tenderness in the arm gets worse after 24 hours, people should also consider contacting a doctor.

The CDC’s info about coronavirus vaccine side effects is available at this link.

New Coronavirus variants: What we should know

In December 2020, news media reported a new variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and since then, other variants have been identified and are under investigation. The new variants raise questions: Are people more at risk for getting sick? Will the COVID-19 vaccines still work? Are there new or different things you should do now to keep your family safe?

Stuart Ray, M.D., vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics, and Robert Bollinger, M.D., M.P.H., Raj and Kamla Gupta professor of infectious diseases, are experts in SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. They talk about what is known about these new variants, and answer questions and concerns you may have.

Variants of viruses occur when there is a change — or mutation — to the virus’s genes. Ray says it is the nature of RNA viruses such as the coronavirus to evolve and change gradually. “Geographic separation tends to result in genetically distinct variants,” he says.

Mutations in viruses — including the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic — are neither new nor unexpected. Bollinger explains: “All RNA viruses mutate over time, some more than others. For example, flu viruses change often, which is why doctors recommend that you get a new flu vaccine every year."

“We are seeing multiple variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that are different from the version first detected in China,” Ray says.

He notes that one mutated version of the coronavirus was detected in southeastern England in September 2020. That variant, now known as B.1.1.7, quickly became the most common version of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom, accounting for about 60% of new COVID-19 cases in December. It is now the predominant form of the coronavirus in some countries.

Different variants have emerged in Brazil, California and other areas. A variant called B.1.351, which first appeared in South Africa, may have the ability to re-infect people who have recovered from earlier versions of the coronavirus. It might also be somewhat resistant to some of the coronavirus vaccines in development. Still, other vaccines currently being tested appear to offer protection from severe disease in people infected with B.1.351.

One of the main concerns about the coronavirus variants is if the mutations could affect treatment and prevention.

The variant known as B.1.351, which was identified in South Africa, is getting a closer look from researchers, whose early data show that the COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford-AstraZeneca provided “minimal” protection from that version of the coronavirus. Those who became sick from the B.1.351 coronavirus variant after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine experienced mild or moderate illness.

The B.1.351 variant has not been shown to cause more severe illness than earlier versions. But there is a chance that it could give people who survived the original coronavirus another round of mild or moderate COVID-19.

Researchers studying placebo (non-vaccine) recipients in the South African COVID-19 vaccine trial by Novavax compared subgroups of participants who did or did not have antibodies indicating prior COVID-19. Those who did have the antibodies most likely were infected with older variants of SARS-CoV-2. They found that having recovered from COVID-19 did not protect against being sickened again at a time when the B.1.351 variant was spreading there.

Will the COVID-19 vaccine work on the new variants?

Ray says, “There is new evidence from laboratory studies that some immune responses driven by current vaccines could be less effective against some of the new strains. The immune response involves many components, and a reduction in one does not mean that the vaccines will not offer protection.

“People who have received the vaccines should watch for changes in guidance from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], and continue with coronavirus safety precautions to reduce the risk of infection, such as mask wearing, physical distancing and hand hygiene.”

“We deal with mutations every year for flu virus, and will keep an eye on this coronavirus and track it,” says Bollinger. “If there would ever be a major mutation, the vaccine development process can accommodate changes, if necessary,” he explains.

How are the new coronavirus variants different?

“There are 17 genetic changes in the B.1.1.7 variant from England,” Bollinger says. “There’s some preliminary evidence that this variant is more contagious. Scientists noticed a surge of cases in areas where the new strain appeared.”

He notes that some of the mutations in the B.1.1.7 version seem to affect the coronavirus’s spike protein, which covers the outer coating of SARS-CoV-2 and give the virus its characteristic spiny appearance. These proteins help the virus attach to human cells in the nose, lungs and other areas of the body.

“Researchers have preliminary evidence that some of the new variants, including B.1.1.7, seem to bind more tightly to our cells” Bollinger says. “This appears to make some of these new strains ‘stickier’ due to changes in the spike protein. Studies are underway to understand more about whether any of the variants are more easily transmitted.”

Bollinger says that some of these mutations may enable the coronavirus to spread faster from person to person, and more infections can result in more people getting very sick or dying. In addition, there is preliminary evidence from Britain that some variants could be associated with more severe disease. “Therefore, it is very important for us to expand the number of genetic sequencing studies to keep track of these variants,” he says.

Bollinger explains that it may be more advantageous for a respiratory virus to evolve so that it spreads more easily. On the other hand, mutations that make a virus more deadly may not give the virus an opportunity to spread efficiently. “If we get too sick or die quickly from a particular virus, the virus has less opportunity to infect others. However, more infections from a faster-spreading variant will lead to more deaths,” he notes.

Regarding coronavirus variants, how concerned should we be?

“Most of the genetic changes we see in this virus are like the scars people accumulate over a lifetime — incidental marks of the road, most of which have no great significance or functional role,” Ray says. “When the evidence is strong enough that a viral genetic change is causing a change in the behavior of the virus, we gain new insight regarding how this virus works.”

“As far as these variants are concerned, we don’t need to overreact,” Bollinger says. “But, as with any virus, changes are something to be watched, to ensure that testing, treatment and vaccines are still effective. The scientists will continue to examine new versions of this coronavirus’s genetic sequencing as it evolves."

“In the meantime, we need to continue all of our efforts to prevent viral transmission and to vaccinate as many people as possible, and as soon as we can.”

Fast-spreading variants boost coronavirus surge across Europe

The virus swept through a nursery school and an adjacent elementary school in the Milan suburb of Bollate with amazing speed. In a matter of just days, 45 children and 14 staff members had tested positive.

Genetic analysis confirmed what officials already suspected: The highly contagious coronavirus variant first identified in England was racing through the community, a densely packed city of nearly 40,000 with a chemical plant and a Pirelli bicycle tire factory a 15-minute drive from the heart of Milan, according to Associated Press.

 The so-called UK variant is of greatest concern in the 53 countries monitored by WHO in Europe. (Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse via AP)
The so-called UK variant is of greatest concern in the 53 countries monitored by WHO in Europe. (Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse via AP)

“This demonstrates that the virus has a sort of intelligence. ... We can put up all the barriers in the world and imagine that they work, but in the end, it adapts and penetrates them,” lamented Bollate Mayor Francesco Vassallo.

Bollate was the first city in Lombardy, the northern region that has been the epicenter in each of Italy’s three surges, to be sealed off from neighbors because of virus variants that the World Health Organization says are powering another uptick in infections across Europe. The variants also include versions first identified in South Africa and Brazil.

Europe recorded 1 million new COVID-19 cases last week, an increase of 9% from the previous week and a reversal that ended a six-week decline in new infections, WHO said Thursday.

“The spread of the variants is driving the increase, but not only,” said Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, citing “also the opening of society, when it is not done in a safe and a controlled manner.”

The variant first found in the U.K. is spreading significantly in 27 European countries monitored by WHO and is dominant in at least 10 countries: Britain, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Spain and Portugal.

It is up to 50% more transmissible than the virus that surged last spring and again in the fall, making it more adept at thwarting measures that were previously effective, WHO experts warned. Scientists have concluded that it is also more deadly.

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

“That is why health systems are struggling more now,” Kluge said. “It really is at a tipping point. We have to hold the fort and be very vigilant.”

In Lombardy, which bore the brunt of Italy’s spring surge, intensive care wards are again filling up, with more than two-thirds of new positive tests being the UK variant, health officials said.

After putting two provinces and some 50 towns on a modified lockdown, Lombardy’s regional governor announced tightened restrictions Friday and closed classrooms for all ages. Cases in Milan schools alone surged 33% in a week, the provincial health system’s chief said.

The situation is dire in the Czech Republic, which this week registered a record-breaking total of nearly 8,500 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Poland is opening temporary hospitals and imposing a partial lockdown as the U.K. variant has grown from 10% of all infections in February to 25% now.

Two patients from hard-hit Slovakia were expected to arrive Saturday for treatment in Germany, where authorities said they had offered to take in 10 patients.

Kluge cited Britain’s experience as cause for optimism, noting that widespread restrictions and the introduction of the vaccine have helped tamp down the variants there and in Israel. The vaccine rollout in the European Union, by comparison, is lagging badly, mostly because of supply problems.

In Britain, the emergence of the more transmissible strain sent cases soaring in December and triggered a national lockdown in January. Cases have since plummeted, from about 60,000 a day in early January to about 7,000 a day now.

Still, a study shows the rate of decline slowing, and the British government says it will tread cautiously with plans to ease the lockdown. That process begins Monday with the reopening of schools. Infection rates are highest in people ages 13 to 17, and officials will watch closely to see whether the return to class brings a spike in infections.

While the U.K. variant is dominant in France, forcing lockdowns in the French Riviera city of Nice and the northern port of Dunkirk, the variant first detected in South Africa has emerged as the most prevalent in France’s Moselle region, which borders Germany and Luxembourg. It represents 55% of the virus circulating there.

Austria’s health minister said Saturday the U.K. variant is now dominant in his country. But the South Africa variant is also a concern in a district of Austria that extends from Italy to Germany, with Austrian officials announcing plans to vaccinate most of the 84,000 residents there to curb its spread. Austria is also requiring motorists along the Brenner highway, a major north-south route, to show negative test results.

The South Africa variant, now present in 26 European countries, is a source of particular concern because of doubts over whether the current vaccines are effective enough against it. The Brazilian variant, which appears capable of reinfecting people, has been detected in 15 European countries.

WHO and its partners are working to strengthen the genetic surveillance needed to track variants across the continent.

The mayor of Bollate has appealed to the regional governor to vaccinate all 40,000 residents immediately, though he expects to be told the vaccine supply is too tight.

Bollate has recorded 3,000 positive cases and 134 deaths — mostly among the elderly — since Italy was stricken a year ago. It took the brunt in the resurgence in November and December, and was caught completely off guard when the U.K. variant arrived, racing through schoolage children before hitting families at home.

“People are starting to get tired that after a year there is no light at the end of the tunnel,” Vassallo said.

**READ MORE: What is COVID-19 or Coronavirus?

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