Pfizer vaccine: All your questions answered

On September 1, all Kiwis over the age of 12 became eligible to get their COVID-19 vaccine, and with each arm that is jabbed, New Zealand steps closer to the ultimate goal of herd immunity. 

But right now, only slightly over one-quarter of Kiwis are fully vaccinated, which leaves our country vulnerable to the threat of Delta and other COVID-19 variants that may pop up in the future

If you want to get the vaccine, but still have a few burning questions about its safety, efficacy, or how your body may react, you've come to the right place. Newshub looks at some commonly asked questions about the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. 

Disclaimer: All of the following information is sourced from the Ministry of Health, and other official health websites. 

Can I get the vaccine if I am unwell or have a fever? 

The Ministry of Health recommends you delay your vaccine if you have a fever of 38°C degrees or over. 

Immunisation Advisor Karin Batty explains why someone who is unwell should delay their vaccine. 

"If a person is really unwell when they have their immunisation, common responses to the vaccine, like feeling tired or having a headache, may make it more difficult to assess what is happening with their illness," Batty tells Newshub.

"It is also important that any complications from illness are not mistaken as complications from immunisation."

Can I get the vaccine if I have previously had COVID-19? 

According to an article published by John Hopkins University, people who have previously contracted COVID-19 may still benefit from getting vaccinated.

"Due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and the fact that re-infection with COVID-19 is possible, people may be advised to get a COVID-19 vaccine even if they have been sick with COVID-19 before," the article, co-authored by Professor Gabor David Kelen and Professor Lisa Lockerd Maragakis, states. 

While there is not yet enough evidence to conclude that having COVID-19 once gives you natural immunity (as something like chickenpox does), early evidence shows natural immunity may not last long.

"Several subjects in the Pfizer trial who were previously infected got vaccinated without ill effects. Some scientists believe the vaccine offers better protection for coronavirus than natural infection," the article explains. 

The Ministry of Health recommends waiting four weeks after you have recovered from COVID-19 until getting the jab. 

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I am taking antibiotics? 

If you’re taking antibiotics you can get the COVID-19 vaccine as long as you’re not feeling significantly unwell from your infection. 

Batty assures Kiwis that it is safe to have your vaccine while taking antibiotics, unless you are feeling very ill. 

"If they are really unwell or have a fever of 38+, it would be better for them to rebook their immunisation for a time when they expect to be feeling better," Batty says. 

Can I get the vaccine if I am pregnant, trying for a baby, or breastfeeding? 

The Ministry of Health assures Kiwis that you can get the COVID-19 vaccine at any stage of pregnancy, whether you are trying, pregnant or breastfeeding. Data collected from the millions of pregnant people who have been inoculated worldwide shows no additional risk to the COVID-19 vaccine.

"Getting the vaccine during pregnancy or while breastfeeding may also help protect your baby as there’s evidence that infants can get antibodies to the virus through cord blood and breast milk," the Ministry of Health states on their website. 

Additionally, getting the COVID-19 vaccine will not affect your fertility. 

According to John Hopkins University, the COVID-19 vaccine encourages the body to create copies of the spike protein found on the coronavirus’s surface. This teaches the body’s immune system to fight the virus that has that specific spike protein on it.

A conspiracy theory doing the rounds on social media wrongly said the spike protein was the same as the spike protein that is involved in the growth and attachment of the placenta during pregnancy. 

"The two spike proteins are completely different and distinct, and getting the COVID-19 vaccine will not affect the fertility of women who are seeking to become pregnant, including through in vitro fertilization methods," the John Hopkins article explains

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I need to get other vaccines?

You can get the COVID-19 vaccine, but it is recommended you space them out. For example, if you have recently gotten the flu jab, allow at least 2 weeks until you have your COVID-19 vaccine. 

If you have gotten one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine somewhere other than New Zealand, you should still have your second dose of Pfizer here, even if your first dose was not Pfizer. 

"These vaccines are not interchangeable, but you’re likely to have a good response to an additional single dose of the Pfizer vaccine. This is because all the vaccines target the immune response to the same part of the COVID-19 virus," the Ministry of Health says. 

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I am immunocompromised?

An immunocompromised person is at greater risk of getting a serious case of COVID-19 than the average healthy Kiwi. The Pfizer vaccine can be safely taken when receiving medication that affects your immune system. 

"As with all vaccines, you may not respond as strongly as someone with a fully functioning immune system, but it can protect you from becoming very unwell if you get COVID-19," the Ministry of Health explains. 

However, if you are severely immunocompromised, discuss the timing of your vaccination with your doctor or specialist.

"To help protect yourself, encourage your family and the people you live with to also get vaccinated when it’s available to them," the Ministry of Health says. 

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I have cancer? 

As with those who are immunocompromised, Kiwis with cancer risk getting a serious case of COVID-19 if they contract the virus. 

The Ministry of Health says at this stage, there’s no evidence that suggests the Pfizer vaccine interacts with cancer treatments.

According to Te Aho O Te Kahu, the Cancer Control Agency, there is no indication people with cancer experience different or worse side effects after getting the vaccine. 

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I am getting a CT scan or mammogram after my vaccination?

The Ministry of Health says if you are getting a CT scan or breast screening after your vaccination it is important to let your doctor and radiographer know. 

"The vaccine can occasionally cause the lymph nodes in your armpit or neck to swell for a few days. This may be seen on the mammogram or ultrasound for up to a few weeks or in a CT scan, including those that are used to diagnose and monitor cancers," the Ministry of Health explains. 

Can I get the Pfizer vaccine if I am taking blood-thinning medication? 

You can, but you need to let your vaccinator know before they inject you. 

"This is because the Pfizer vaccine is given intramuscularly (into the muscle of the upper arm), this increases the risk of bleeding for some people on these medications," the Ministry of Health says. 

However, the vaccine itself doesn't increase your risk of bleeding. 

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccination if I have had an allergic reaction to any vaccine?

The Ministry of Health says that If you’ve had a serious or immediate allergic reaction to any vaccine or injection in the past, you need to let your vaccinator know.

Batty says anaphylaxis after having the vaccine is "very rare".

"Around five cases in every one million doses of vaccine given in America. The risk of anaphylaxis after the vaccine does not change for a person with a history of anaphylaxis to anything that is not in the vaccine," she says.

What exactly is in the Pfizer vaccine?

Pfizer contains "normal vaccine ingredients", according to the Ministry of Health. This includes mRNA, fats, salt and sugar.

"These COVID-19 vaccines were not developed using fetal tissue, and they do not contain any material, such as implants, microchips or tracking devices," the Ministry of Health states on their website.