Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Picture: Christof Stache/AFP
Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Picture: Christof Stache/AFP

Everything you need to know about the Pfizer vaccine

By Rudolph Nkgadima Time of article published Feb 9, 2021

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Cape Town – THE move comes after a study showed the jab offered limited protection against mild and moderate disease caused by the 501Y.V2 coronavirus variant found in South Africa.

Early results suggest the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine protects against the new variants. According to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, South Africa has secured 20 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.

Here’s what we know about the Pfizer vaccine:

How effective is the vaccine against new variants

According to Professor Salim Abdool Karim, one of South Africa’s leading Covid-19 experts, the vaccines made by Pfizer seem to do “reasonably well” against the 501Y.V2 variant.

According to an article published in Nature Medicine yesterday, the BioNTech/Pfizer coronavirus vaccine should grant protection against the South African and British variants.

It is a two-dose vaccine

The Pfizer Covid-19 Vaccine will be given to you as an injection into the muscle. The vaccine vaccination series is two doses given three weeks apart.

Side effects

Side effects that have been reported with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine include:

Injection site pain, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, fever, injection site swelling, injection site redness and nausea.

Last month 23 people died in Norway within days of receiving their first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine with 13 of those deaths apparently related to the side effects of the shots, New York Post reported citing the health officials. All 13 were nursing home patients and at least 80 years old.

What is in the vaccine?

The Pfizer vaccine uses a new technology named messenger RNA, after the molecular couriers of genetic instructions, which allows developers to make more rapid changes to their vaccines than more traditional techniques.

The mRNA is synthetic, not extracted from actual viruses. It is delivered in a tiny sphere of inert fatty material called a lipid nanoparticle.

It doesn’t really require complicated cold storage

For long-term storage – meaning for six months or so – the vaccine has to be kept at -70° C, which requires specialist cooling equipment. But Pfizer has invented a distribution container that keeps the vaccine at that temperature for 10 days if unopened.

These containers can also be used for temporary storage in a vaccination facility for up to 30 days as long as they are replenished with dry ice every five days. Once thawed, the vaccine can be stored in a regular fridge at 2°C to 8°C for up to five days.

Biovac ready to store, distribute any vaccine

Biovac, the pharmaceutical company tasked with storing and distributing South Africa's vaccines, says it is prepared to store and distribute any vaccine that the Health Department is planning to roll out.

Biovac Institute chief executive, Dr Morena Makhoana, says they have stepped up security where Covid-19 vaccines are stored before distribution.

“If the Department of Health is planning to continue with the current stock or the J&J, I don’t think it makes any difference as to where we deliver and how we prepare. We are prepared and we are waiting for the release of the product. If there is a switch to another product, all of those plans will kick in.”

It works in older people

Trial participants were up to 85 years old, and the efficacy in people over 65 was 94% – a tiny bit lower than the overall number but still very protective, and much higher than some vaccine experts feared. The vaccine hasn’t been tested in people over 85 years.

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