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Should diabetics get the COVID-19 vaccine? We ask a South African expert.

We know that many of our Diabetic South Africans are feeling hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine. When we posted that people with diabetes are second in line for the vaccine, there were a lot of questions. So we asked an expert to answer your questions, including: Should diabetics get the COVID-19 vaccine?

should diabetics get the covid-19 vaccine

Should diabetics get the COVID-19 vaccine?

We asked Professor Joel Dave, one of South Africa’s top endocrinologists and the head of endocrinology at UCT and Groote Schuur, for his advice. Prof. Dave has been working the COVID wards and has a deep understanding of what it’s like for people with diabetes to get COVID-19. Should diabetics get the COVID-19 vaccine? In his opinion, yes.

Will the vaccine prevent you from getting COVID-19?

“The vaccines are 90 to 95% effective depending on which one you get,” says Prof. Dave. “This means that out of every 100 people given the vaccine, 5 to 10 people will still get COVID. So the vaccine will not prevent COVID in everyone but it will in the majority.”

Can herd immunity be created by people taking the vaccine, or only by those who have had COVID-19 and survived?  

“Yes, we can get herd immunity by people taking the vaccine,” he says.

Herd immunity (or population immunity) is when the majority of people in a community are immune to an infectious disease. This provides indirect protection to those who aren’t immune, because it stops the spread of the disease. In this article, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says South Africa is aiming to vaccinate 67% of South Africans because scientifically this is the number we need to achieve herd immunity. That doesn’t mean that the remaining 33% will get COVID-19. It means that if two thirds of the country are immune to the disease, it will not spread. The reason COVID-19 has spread so fast and so far, all over the world, is that nobody was immune.

Think about infectious diseases like measles or chickenpox. Before we were vaccinated for these diseases (as most South Africans are as children), a measles or chickenpox outbreak would be a huge problem. Now it isn’t. You can read more about herd immunity and COVID-19 in this Johns Hopkins article here.

Can you die from taking the COVID-19 vaccine?

“All vaccines have potential side effects,” explains Prof. Dave. “I haven’t yet heard of a death from the vaccine. Very few people have had serious allergic reactions.” Over 54.3 million people worldwide have been given the COVID-19 vaccine in the last month. Take a look at this COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker: it is being called the biggest vaccination campaign in history.

covid-19 vaccine tracker

The vaccine was created so quickly, is it safe?

“It is safer than getting COVID!” says Prof. Dave. “Clearly it would have been better to have been able to  study the long-term side effects, but pandemics don’t afford that opportunity. So far many thousands have received the vaccine with no obvious issues 12 to 18 months later.” 

Advances in science have made it much easier to find the virus, which would have taken much longer in the past. Because COVID-19 is related to other coronaviruses in the past (like SARS and MERS), there was also previous research to build on. And while the vaccine was found quickly, the clinical trials were not rushed at all. Take a look at this excellent explanation from Henry Ford.

Keep in mind, too, that this is the first time ever that the whole world has been united for a common cause. Scientists from all over the world have worked together to find this vaccination. (If only we could get them to work on a Type 1 diabetes cure next!)

Are there any dangerous side effects to the vaccine?

“Some people have allergic reactions to the vaccine, but it is not common,” explains Prof. Dave. “Most are typical vaccination reactions and are mild (mild fever, nausea and diarrhea).”

Reactions to vaccinations usually occur minutes to hours after the injection is given.

covid-19 vaccine

Do you get COVID-19 from the vaccine, like you can get flu from the flu vaccine?

“No.”

It is not a live vaccine, like the flu vaccine, which makes you get a milder case of flu. The COVID-19 vaccine makes your body produce one single protein from the virus – the one that infects your cells. When you make that protein, you prevent infection. Read the full explanation here. 

If you’ve already had COVID-19, do you need to take the vaccine or are you immune?

“The experts suggest you should take the vaccine,” says Prof. Dave. “It will act as a booster.” 

There have been some cases overseas where people are getting COVID-19 a second time, so if you’ve had it once it doesn’t necessarily mean you are immune. 

If you’re in a high risk group or have low immunity, is it a good idea to get the vaccine?  

“Definitely!” says Prof. Dave. 

We know that people with diabetes are at greater risk of complications from COVID-19, and of getting the more serious version of COVID-19 that can lead to death. Here are all the South African facts. Being in a high risk group or having low immunity means it’s even more important to get the vaccine – you don’t want to run the risk of serious COVID-19.

Should diabetics get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Ultimately, it is your decision. Some people are hesitant to get the vaccine because of religious reasons. This excellent guide created by the South African Council of Churches together with the Department of Health and other religious organisations addresses those concerns. You can download it below.

covid-19 vaccine guide from church south africa

Many people in our Diabetic South Africans community who have had COVID-19 said they would rather have the vaccine than run the risk of getting COVID again. Even mild cases mean days of deep body aches, fatigue that doesn’t lift for weeks, loss of taste and smell and the risk of long-term nerve damage. Everyone will make their own decisions, but this is not a decision to be taken lightly. Whatever you decide, we’re all in this together!

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Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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8 Comments

  1. elmarie elmarie

    i am a Type 1 diabetic for the last 32 years but have a hyper-sensitivity to my insulin and medication. Do i need to take this and what are my chances to having a allergic reaction as i still have a reaction to most of my medications at this stage?

    • I would say it’s best to ask your doctor as they will know your history. I would imagine the allergic reaction to insulin and to a vaccine would not be the same, but I’m not a medical expert so can’t advise. Let us know what they say?

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.