- A negative test result in a person with no symptoms does not mean that you do not have COVID-19. You could still be in the early stage of COVID-19 and develop symptoms later. Therefore, testing when you do not have symptoms could give a false-negative result.
- Even if your laboratory test result was negative, you would still need to stay at home in quarantine for 14 days if you travelled to a region with high transmission or had close contact with a person with confirmed COVID-19. Refer to guidance on what to do if I am a close contact of a person with confirmed disease and am asked to home quarantine.
- If you tested negative and mistakenly interpreted this to mean that you were not infected, you could go back to your usual activities and spread the virus while you still had an early infection.
- There is a shortage of laboratory tests globally, and we need to reserve our valuable laboratory testing resources for those who are sick and for those groups of people where we can use these test results for public health good.
Vaccines train your immune system to create antibodies, just as it does when it is exposed to a disease.
When you get a vaccine, your immune system responds. It:
- recognises the invading germ, such as the virus or bacteria
- produces antibodies. Antibodies are proteins produced naturally by the immune system to fight disease
- remembers the disease and how to fight it.
If you are then exposed to the germ in the future, your immune system can quickly destroy it before you become unwell.
However, because vaccines contain only killed or weakened forms of germs like viruses or bacteria, they do not cause the disease or put you at risk of its complications.
Scientists around the world are developing many potential vaccines for COVID-19. These vaccines are all designed to teach the body’s immune system to safely recognise and block the virus that causes COVID-19.
- Inactivated or weakened virus vaccines, which use a form of the virus that has been inactivated or weakened so it does not cause disease, but still generates an immune response.
- Protein-based vaccines, which use harmless fragments of proteins or protein shells that mimic the COVID-19 virus to safely generate an immune response.
- Viral vector vaccines, which use a safe virus that cannot cause disease but serves as a platform to produce coronavirus proteins to generate an immune response.
- RNA and DNA vaccines, which employ a cutting-edge approach that uses genetically engineered RNA or DNA to generate a protein that itself safely prompts an immune response.
Vaccines for different diseases can be administered in different ways. All the COVID-19 vaccines are given through an injection in the arm.
COVID-19 vaccines protect you from severe illness and death from the virus by helping the body develop immunity. They may also help reduce the spread of the virus between people, so one person’s choice to get vaccinated could save many more lives.
COVID-19 vaccines are a key tool in ending the pandemic and getting societies back to normal. Mass vaccination campaigns should also help reduce the pressure on health workers and hospitals, allowing them to attend to patients with other conditions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends you get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as one is available to you.
Two key reasons to get vaccinated are to protect ourselves and to protect those around us. Because not everyone can be vaccinated – including very young babies, those who are seriously ill or have certain allergies – they depend on others being vaccinated to ensure they are also safe from vaccine-preventable diseases.
When a person gets vaccinated against a disease, their risk of infection is also reduced – so they are far less likely to spread the disease to others. As more people in a community get vaccinated, fewer people remain vulnerable, and there is less possibility for passing the germ on from person to person. Lowering the possibility for a germ to circulate in the community protects those who cannot be vaccinated due to other serious health conditions. This is called “herd immunity.”
“Herd immunity” exists when a high percentage of the population is vaccinated, making it difficult for infectious diseases to spread, because there are not many people who can be infected. But herd immunity only works if most people are vaccinated.
Yes. There are strict protections in place to help ensure the safety of all COVID-19 vaccines.
Before receiving authorisation from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), COVID-19 vaccines undergo rigorous testing in clinical trials to prove that they meet internationally agreed standards for safety and efficacy.
Hundreds of millions of vaccine doses have been administered globally and millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines in Africa.
As with all vaccines, the WHO and SAHPRA will continuously monitor their use to confirm that they remain safe for all who receive them.
The Department of Health will work with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to ensure that whichever vaccine we use has met all the regulatory requirements of safety, efficacy, and quality.
Yes. Before a vaccine can be rolled out the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) must assess the safety, efficacy and quality of the vaccine. SAHPRA has committed to ensuring the expeditious evaluation of these vaccines once they have been received, through various mechanisms that will shorten the timeframe it usually takes to approve a product.
Yes. The World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Use Listing (EUL) is the golden standard to confirm the quality, safety and efficacy of vaccines used during the pandemic. So far, four COVID-19 vaccines have received WHO Emergency Use Listing – the Pfizer, the Sinovac, the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. South Africa chose to use the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines for now, because they are most effective against the variants of the virus that we have. However, they are now starting to plan the roll out for Sinovac.
Other vaccines that are being reviewed by the WHO EUL are Novavax and Moderna. South Africa is also in negotiations to purchase some of these.
Yes. Vaccine development and clinical trials are a key research priority for COVID-19 in Africa. Voluntary clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines continue to take place in Kenya and South Africa. Testing vaccines in Africa ensures that data is generated on the safety and efficacy of promising vaccines for the African population.
These are not the first vaccines to be tested in Africa, with vaccines like the conjugate meningitis A and Ebola vaccines having been tested on the continent before their rollout.
All clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines are voluntary. Hundreds of thousands of people have been involved in clinical trials around the world, which has provided crucial data to help show that COVID-19 vaccines work and are safe.
No, clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines have not been rushed.
Given the urgent need for COVID-19 vaccines, unprecedented investment and scientific collaboration is changing how vaccines are developed. Some steps in the research and development process for COVID-19 vaccines have taken place in parallel, while still maintaining strict clinical and safety standards. For example, some clinical trials are evaluating multiple vaccines at the same time, but this does not make the studies any less rigorous than normal.
Like any vaccine, COVID-19 vaccines can cause mild side effects, such as a low-grade fever or pain or redness at the injection site. Most reactions to vaccines are mild and go away within a few days on their own. More serious or long-lasting side effects to vaccines are possible but extremely rare. Vaccines are continually monitored to detect rare adverse events.
Reported side effects to COVID-19 vaccines have mostly been mild to moderate and short-lasting. They include: fever, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, diarrhoea, and pain at the injection site.
There have been reports of severe allergic reactions in a small number of people who received a COVID-19 vaccine. A severe allergic reaction – such as anaphylaxis – is a potential but rare side effect with any vaccine. In persons with a known risk, such as previous experience of an allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine or any of the known components in the vaccine, precautions may need to be taken.
If you have previously had an allergic reaction to vaccines or other medicine, you should consult your healthcare provider before getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
All healthcare workers providing vaccines are trained to recognise severe allergic reactions and take practical steps to treat such reactions if they occur.
COVID-19 vaccine use will be closely monitored by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) and international bodies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), to detect serious side effects, including any unexpected side effects. This will help us better understand and manage the specific risks of allergic reactions or other serious side effects to COVID-19 vaccines that may not have been detected during clinical trials, ensuring safe vaccination for all.
Your healthcare provider can best advise on whether or not you should receive a COVID-19 vaccine. However, based on available evidence, people with the following health conditions should generally be excluded from COVID-19 vaccination in order to avoid possible adverse effects:
- If you have a history of severe allergic reactions to any ingredients of the COVID-19 vaccine.
- If you are currently sick or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, although you should get vaccinated as soon as possible according to the guidelines below.
After mild COVID-19 you can have your COVID-19 vaccine 30 days after recovering from the acute infection. This is usually around 40 days after your first symptoms.
After severe COVID-19 (needing oxygen) you need to wait 90 days for your vaccine.
After acute illness (not COVID-19), especially flu-like symptoms, you should delay your vaccine until you are well.
If you are in quarantine after COVID-19 contact, you should delay your vaccine until your full 10 day quarantine is over.
If you have had another vaccine e.g the flu vaccine, you should wait 2 weeks after the other vaccine before having your COVID-19 vaccine.
Yes, vaccination is safe for pregnant women. Pregnancy puts women at higher risk of severe COVID-19, and for this reason, it is advised that vaccines are offered to all pregnant and breastfeeding women during any stage of pregnancy, and during breastfeeding
Studies are still underway, but so far it seems that children 16 years and over can be vaccinated safely.
The COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology has been rigorously assessed for safety, and clinical trials have shown that mRNA vaccines provide a long-lasting immune response. mRNA vaccine technology has been studied for several decades, including for Zika, rabies, and influenza vaccines. mRNA vaccines are not live virus vaccines and do not interfere with human DNA.
If you have a chronic condition or are on medication, contact your doctor to discuss vaccination. If you do not have your own doctor you can also contact 0800 029 999 during office hours and select option 3. There will be doctors available to discuss the issue with you.
Yes. Data from clinical trials and now data coming from use in real life settings is showing that COVID-19 vaccines authorised for use are highly effective in protecting against severe illness and death from COVID-19.
It usually takes a few weeks after vaccination for the body to develop immunity, so it is possible that you could be infected just before or just after vaccination and then get sick because the vaccine did not have enough time to provide protection. Similarly, if you are exposed to COVID-19, even if you have had the vaccine, you may still catch it. The biggest advantage of the vaccine is that it makes it very unlikely that you would get very sick or end up in hospital if you did get COVID-19 – it does not stop you catching it altogether. People should therefore continue using proven safety measures like regular hand-cleaning, using masks and practicing social distancing to reduce transmission of the virus.
COVID-19 vaccines are effective in preventing severe disease and death, yet because these vaccines have only been developed in recent months it is still too early to know the exact duration of the protection they provide. Research is ongoing to answer this question and to determine whether a booster will be needed. Both Pfizer and J&J vaccines have demonstrated good immune responses lasting 6 to 8 months after vaccination. However it is still early in the vaccination roll-out and it’s possible immunity lasts much longer.
This is still unknown, but is likely, especially as new variants develop.
It is not recommended to have an antibody test to see if you have developed immunity from the vaccine.
The following vaccines have been approved for use in South Africa by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA):
- Johnson & Johnson
|Vaccine brand name||Who can get this vaccine?||How many shots do you need?||When are you fully vaccinated?|
|Johnson & Johnson – Janssen||People 18 years and older||One shot||Two weeks after your shot|
|Pfizer – BioNTech||People 16 years and older||Two shots given six weeks (42 days) apart||Two weeks after your second shot|
|Sinovac||People 18 years and older||Two shots given two to four weeks apart||Two weeks after your second shot|
|AstraZeneca||People 18 years and older||Two shots given eight to 12 weeks apart||Two weeks after your second shot|
|The Government of South Africa has decided not to make use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for now, since it proved less effective against the predominant variant of the virus in South Africa. This decision can be revised when new information becomes available.|
The best COVID-19 vaccine is the first one that is available to you. Do not wait for a specific brand. All the vaccines that are authorised for use are safe, effective and reduce your risk of severe illness.
The J&J vaccine is 66.3% protective against moderate to severe COVID-19 infections, from 28 days after injection (with variability based on geographic locations).
From the reported studies, once fully vaccinated (2 weeks after second dose) there is an efficacy of 95% in preventing symptomatic COVID infection.
The recommended interval between doses is 42 days (6 weeks).
In the immediate couple of weeks after the first vaccine dose, there is very little immunity. You need to be particularly cautious during this time. From about two weeks after the first dose, some immunity starts to develop. A recent study showed that a single dose of Pfizer was 80% effective at preventing hospital admission with COVID-19 and a single dose was 85% effective at preventing death. It is unknown how long this immunity lasts though. It is crucial to get the second dose of Pfizer in order to develop a robust immunity that will persist.