‘Excessive alcohol intake can reduce immune response to vaccines’

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Drinking.
Drinking.

Sudhir Bhandari, principal and controller at the SMS Medical College here, who had headed a medical team to develop a combination of antiviral and antibiotic drugs to cure Covid patients initially when the virus had broken out in the country, spoke to IANS before the much-awaited vaccine roll-out, saying that vaccination shall bring in herd immunity and help the nation become Corona-free soon.

Being a member of the state advisory board of the government for Covid-19 and head of the core treatment group of the government for the pandemic, he cleared the air on the interaction between alcohol and Covid vaccine, virus mutation, any after effects of the vaccine and many more such issues, saying that excessive alcohol can reduce the immune response to the vaccines. Here are some excerpts from the exclusive interview:

Q. When is the Covid-19 vaccine likely to be available and who shall get it first?

A: The government will probably get it in the current month itself, while it is likely to be available in the private market by March. The vaccine will be prioritised. The frontline workers and first responders like paramedical staff, civil servants, police and army personnel, and politicians will get it first. People aged more than 50 years and those with comorbidities like diabetes, hyper tension, transplant and chemotherapy patients will get it next. They willbe followed by healthy adults, teenagers, children and lastly the neonates, if at all.

Q: What is the interaction between alcohol and Covid vaccine?

A: Excessive alcohol intake can reduce the immune responses to the vaccine. Since Russians are known for heavy drinking, their government has advised them to avoid drinking for two weeks prior to the first dose and six weeks after the second dose. The Sputnik vaccine is given in two doses 21 days apart. Occasional glass of wine or beer will not interfere with the immune response.

Q: Soon the virus will mutate and we will need another vaccine. Should we not wait?

A: Till now, the virus has not shown a tendency to mutate like the Flu virus. Moreover, the vaccines being developed have taken this into consideration and should still work.

Q: Do you need to take it even if you had Corona?

A: Yes. But that will be last in the priority list. You can let others take who probably need more than you. You might need it earlier if you did not develop an antibody response.

Q: Can it be administered to an individual who received plasma treatment?

A: The donor plasma contains anti Covid-19 antibodies and may suppress the immune response to the vaccine. As it is, those who have recovered from Covid-19 may not need the vaccine in the early phases.

Q: Can a pregnant lady or a lactating mother or a diabetic patient take the vaccine?

A: No company has yet tested the vaccine in pregnancy. The CDC has advised against giving the vaccine to pregnant women and lactating mothers. UK authorities have advised women not to get pregnant for two months after the shot. Since the vaccines available till now are not live vaccines, it should not cause any problem if given inadvertently.

Yes, in fact diabetes has been established as a risk factor for severe disease and all diabetic patients must get vaccinated on priority.

Q: If offered a choice of vaccines, which one should I take?

A: All vaccines are offering equal efficacy, although local reactions may differ. Take whatever is available. Think positive that at least you are being offered a vaccine ahead of others. Indian manufactured vaccines will be more suitable for our population as they are cheaper and can be kept at 2-8 degrees Celsius. The mRNA vaccines require a storing temp of -70 (Pfizer) and -20 (Moderna) degrees Celsius, which may be difficult to maintain in summer months.

Q: How many days after getting a vaccine would I develop protection?

A: The best protection starts 10 days after the second dose. Efficacy is around 70-90 per cent against all severity and 100 per cent against hospitalisation. The immediate aim is to prevent hospitalisation and mortality.

Q: How long will the vaccine provide immunity?

A: It is a new virus, and new technology vaccine, so we don’t know. After follow-ups of the vaccinated population and their antibodies for a couple of years, we would be wiser. The need for boosters and when they will be required will be decided after these follow-ups and mathematical modelling.

Q: Children of what age can be vaccinated? Is the dose for them the same as adults or a lesser dose will be administered?

A: Trials done till now have been for adults above 18 only. Now trials for children above 12 have started. Doses will be decided only after trials are done on younger children and infants.

Q: Can it be given to immunocompromised individuals?

A: The mRNA vaccine and inactivated vaccines are safe. AstraZeneca and Sputnik-V adenovirus vector vaccines are also safe as they are non replicating viral vector vaccines. Live vaccines and replicating viral vector vaccines will have to be avoided.

Q: What are the side-effects expected?

A: The side-effects reported by the trial population are mostly mild Covid like symptoms like fever and fatigue. Local injection site pain and induration has also been reported. Reports of transverse myelitis and facial palsy have not been found to be related to the vaccine. Generally, all vaccines are safe. Although these vaccines have been made in record time, the testing methodology and procedures have not been compromised.

Q: In the past, vaccines have been linked to autism. What about the ones we have now?

A: In 1985, there was a paper linking MMR with autism. After that it has been conclusively proven that there is no relationship between vaccines and autism. All vaccines are extremely safe with minimal, temporary side-effects.

Q: What if I do not want to take the vaccine? Will it be made mandatory?

A: In majority of the countries, it will not be mandatory. You have to choose between the new viral disease with no specific treatment and a new vaccine. The choice is yours. As initially there will be a huge demand supply gap, by not taking a vaccine you can help others.

Q: If I fall in the priority list by being a senior citizen or with a comorbid condition, how do I contact the appropriate vaccination authority?

A: Soon there will be a website and an app, ‘CoWIN’, where you will be able to register with your relevant details. It is the world’s first digital, end-to-end vaccine distribution and management system.

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