In the last few days, I have received a number of calls about whether or not the COVID-19 vaccine should be taken.
I am not surprised by this, as this is naturally a concern to many that have been approached by the governing bodies about taking the vaccine.
I thought I would address some of the common questions that are being asked about the vaccine.
Please note that some of the information below may be relevant to the state of Karnataka (where I hail from), so do check with your local governing body about rules and regulations they may have.
What Are The Vaccines Available In India?
I think you probably know the answer to this question, but nonetheless, here goes.
There are currently 2 vaccines available in India:
Covishield is manufactured by AstraZeneca, while Covaxin is manufactured by Bharat Biotech. The government is currently administering both these vaccines at select centers across Karnataka and the rest of the country.
Which Vaccine Should I Take?
Currently, there is no choice given to the public about which vaccine they should take. Each center has stocked the vaccines given to them by the government, so if you are allotted a center then you will have to take the vaccine they are offering there.
Please note that the decision to take the vaccine is entirely VOLUNTARY. You may opt not to have the vaccine if you do not wish to.
How Do I Register For The Vaccine?
Right now, it appears the only way to get the vaccine is to register on the COWIN website or by downloading the app.
The website is https://www.cowin.gov.in/home
Once you land on the website, you will need to register yourself or a family member using a telephone number and an OTP. Up to 4 family members can be registered using a single telephone number.
You may also register using the Aarogya Setu app, where they have included a section for COWIN registration.
I would advise you to read this article on NDTV for step-by-step instructions.
How Is The Vaccine Administered?
Having had both doses, I can tell you that the vaccine will be administered in your left arm (Or right arm if you are left-handed).
If the thickness of muscle in your left arm is very little, they may administer it in the buttocks. I am not aware of any of my colleagues having had such an injection though.
The left shoulder muscle will be cleaned with cotton and some spirit and the injection will be administered.
Honestly, it is no different from any other injections you might have had in your lifetime.
Does It Hurt?
Well, it’s an injection!! It is going to hurt a tiny bit, but it will not bother you!
Afterward, a small number of people may develop shoulder pain which may last a couple of days. I had a little shoulder pain for 2 days after the first shot, but no pain when I had the second shot.
What Are The Side Effects?
Rarely, one may develop side effects from the injection. Common ones are –
I Am On ‘Blood Thinners’ – Can I Take The Vaccine?
I guess this is the most commonly asked question. There are 2 types of blood thinners that are prescribed to patients.
- Antiplatelet agents – Aspirin, Clopidogrel, Ticagrelor and Prasugrel
- Anticoagulants – Warfarin, Nicoumadin, Dabigatran, Apixaban, Rivaroxaban
Those who are taking antiplatelet agents can take the vaccine.
Those taking anticoagulants should probably avoid the vaccine due to the risk of blood clot formation within the muscle.
For example, if you are taking tablet Ecosprin or Clopilet, or if you have had a stent or bypass surgery and are on these agents, then you can go ahead and take the vaccine.
If you have a metallic prosthetic heart valve or if you have an irregular heart rhythm and are taking Acitrom, then there is a risk of bleeding or clot formation after the injection.
However, it is not very clear.
Here is what I suggest. Speak to your doctor about whether your anticoagulation must be stopped for a few days, and whether it is safe to do so. You may not be eligible for the vaccine if you should never miss the anticoagulation medicine.
I Have Had COVID Infection Already – Should I have The Vaccine?
Yes, please do!! You are at risk, later on, so better to have the vaccine to protect yourself.
I Have Diabetes. Can I Take The Vaccine?
If your diabetes is well controlled, with your fasting sugars within 130 and postprandial sugars within 180, then go ahead. This is not guideline-based but is just my opinion.
If your diabetes is poorly controlled, then time to get it right! Once controlled and your doctor gives you the all-clear, go ahead and get vaccinated.
Who Should Not Take The Vaccine?
If you are on anticoagulants, then probably avoid it. Check with your doctor as well.
If you have a history of allergic reactions to vaccines in the past, then best avoid the COVID vaccine. However, an allergic reaction to a painkiller or antibiotic in the past is not relevant and should not stop you from taking the vaccine.
If you have had a high fever in the last 5 days, or are currently on treatment for fever, then the vaccine should not be taken. However, if you have a simple runny nose or the common cold, or a very low-grade fever around 99 deg F, then you should be fine to take the vaccine.
Pregnant women should avoid vaccination.
Those with low immunity (cancer therapy, HIV, etc) may not have the same response that those with a normal immune system will have after the vaccine. The vaccine is still being given to them. If you have such issues, please contact your doctor.
Those with a low platelet count should avoid the vaccine as well. If you have any blood disorders like leukemia or lymphoma, speak to your hematologist about whether you can take the vaccine.
How Long Will The Vaccine Protect Me?
This is not clear. We estimate it might be around 8 months to a year. Time will tell whether we need a booster dose next year.
I Have Had My First Shot – Can I Travel Now?
Nice try. I am sure you are itching to go on that holiday you planned ages ago, but don’t plan it yet.
After the first dose, you are not adequately protected. You can still contract the infection. Make sure you follow COVID-specific precautions as advised previously to the public.
I Have Lung Disease. Can I Take It?
If you have a stable lung condition, then it should be fine to take the injection. If you are on treatment for active infection in the lungs or worsening of asthma, then wait till your pulmonologist or physician gives you the all-clear.
I Have Had A Cardiac Bypass. Can I Have The Vaccine?
Of course. If you are stable from a cardiac perspective, then go right ahead. There is no reason to avoid it.
Is Sulfa Allergy A Contraindication?
If you are allergic to sulfa or penicillin, you can still have the vaccine.
Do I Need The Second Dose? Can I Avoid It?
The first shot is called the primer shot. It just kickstarts the immunity-building process. You need your second injection – it is a booster that powers up your immune system.
Your booster dose will be given to you within 4 to 6 weeks. You will be fully protected if you take both the jabs.
How Much Does It Cost?
The vaccine costs Rs 250 to the public. My understanding is that most private hospitals are charging the same as government institutes.
Watch This Space – As and when more information pops up, I will share it with you.
Dr Vivek Baliga is a medical practitioner and the director of a diagnostic center – Baliga Diagnostics – in Bangalore. He specializes in diabetes and heart disease, and is a visiting consultant in Internal Medicine at corporate hospitals. He is married and has one son.