You may be worried yourself or have heard concerns from family and friends who are unsure about having the Covid-19 vaccination because of associated medical problems or medication that they take. False information can make this a confusing issue.
This article explores the truth about the valid medical reasons for not having the Covid-19 vaccine and the reasons to get vaccinated.
There are only two groups of people where the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine is not suitable.
The first, according to medsafe.govt.nz., is where there is a proven history of anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic reaction requiring treatment with adrenaline, e.g. EpiPen, or hospitalisation) to one of the ingredients listed in the vaccine.
The only component of the Pfizer vaccine that can cause anaphylaxis is called polyethylene glycol (PEG). This is a stabiliser in the vaccine and is also commonly found in medications, cosmetics, and processed foods. Severe allergic reactions to PEG are rare. Immunologist Dr Marianne Empson notes that even patients with severe allergy to PEG can be safely vaccinated at specialist clinics.
The second group are those that had a severe (anaphylactic) allergic reaction immediately after the first dose of Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. This is extremely rare. Increasing data shows that, for even these people, a second vaccination can be safely given in a specialist clinic or hospital setting.
A history of an immediate allergic reaction to any other product is considered as a precaution but not an absolute reason not to have the Pfizer vaccine.
There is a slightly increased risk of a severe allergic response to the vaccine but needs to be balanced against the risk of Covid-19 exposure and severe Covid-19.
These individuals can still safely be vaccinated, and observation extended to 30 minutes after vaccination in healthcare settings, where anaphylaxis can be immediately treated with adrenaline.
People with a previous severe (anaphylactic) reaction to any vaccine on injection should consult with their doctor prior to receiving the Covid-19 vaccine.
Other than the two groups above, there are no medical conditions which would stop you from having a Covid-19 vaccination. Hayfever, smoking, lung issues, inflammatory bowel disease, pregnancy, breastfeeding, thyroid problems, immune suppression, having a kidney or heart transplant, diabetes, HIV and even cancer chemotherapy are not reasons to avoid vaccination.
Even severely autistic people can receive the vaccine, many hospitals will provide a "low stimulus" vaccination centre especially for this group.
There is no evidence the Covid-19 vaccines have any effect on your chance of becoming pregnant. The vaccine is safe in pregnancy. Pregnant women should be vaccinated to protect both themselves and their baby from harm and serious complications caused by
infection with Covid-19. Around 1 in 6 patients receiving the highest level of intensive care in the UK at present are unvaccinated pregnant women.
Recent statistics from the UK highlight the value of the vaccine.
Of the over 50,000 deaths from Covid in the UK over the last six months, only 59 were in fully vaccinated, otherwise healthy individuals (with an average age of 84).
Recent study data from France of 22 million people over the age of 50, half of whom received the vaccine and half who did not, showed the vaccine reduced the risk of severe Covid by 90 per cent.
Even if you believe that you are at low risk of harm from Covid-19, it is very likely that you will have contact with someone who would be hospitalised or die if they were to get Covid-19.
We all have a duty to protect the vulnerable in our community. By getting the vaccine, you are not only protecting yourself from serious illness, you are also protecting those around you who may be at greater risk – such as your grandparents or grandchildren.
Children, in particular under the age of 12, cannot yet receive the vaccine so if you avoid getting the vaccine you are putting our younger generation at serious health risk.
When the virus becomes more widespread in our community, even if we achieve vaccination rates in the population over the age of 12 of 90 per cent, our hospitals would be besieged with (unvaccinated) Covid-19 sufferers.
This would mean cancellation of most other normal medical services including cancer screening and treatment and many operations both elective and urgent. Heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and road accidents don't stop because of Covid-19, but if intensive care beds are full of Covid patients there will be nowhere for these other patients to go, and they will die.
Vaccination is the only way out of a Covid -19 disaster, it protects yourself, our healthcare system (very few vaccinated patients end up in hospital) and protects the vulnerable people in our community.
New Zealand could be one of the most highly vaccinated nations in the world with all the health and economic benefits that go with it.
There is a vaccination centre near you, many require no appointment. If you are still unsure, please, make an appointment to talk it over with your GP. This has never been more urgent.
• Dr Paul Salmon, FRACP; Dr Neil Mortimer, FRACP; Dr Curtis Walker, FRACP; Prof Rod Jackson, MBChB PhD; Dr Marianne Empson, FRCPA, FRACP; Dr Adrian Seine, FRACP; and Dr Alistair Brown, MRCP.