The Genetic Approach

This vaccine uses a new approach called messenger RNA, or mRNA, which delivers instructions for making the coronavirus spike protein directly into your cells. 

Scientists have been working on mRNA vaccines for many years. They are developing other mRNA vaccines to prevent cancer and other conditions.

mRNA COVID-19 vaccines* by delivering spike protein-making instructions to your cells, which begin making them. 

Some of these spikes poke their tips outside of your cells. Others get cut up inside of your cells and their tips drift to the outside of the cell, where your immune system can see and respond to them. 

* Moderna also makes an mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine

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Fast Facts

  • In April 2021, South Africa signed a deal for 20 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. 
  • This means 10 million people in South Africa will receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
  • The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine requires two injections given 21 days apart.
  • The vaccine does not contain any animal products and is halaal.
  • You cannot get COVID-19 from the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
  • It takes about 2 weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for your body to build full immunity against COVID-19.
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Vaccine Safety

The Pfizer/BioNTech* vaccine has received emergency validation from the World Health Organization and it is being used in dozens of countries. It has been safely given to millions of people. 

In March 2021, South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAPHRA) approved the Section 21 application for the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. 

* Moderna also makes an mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine

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Testing & Approving the Vaccine in SA

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been studied in an 800-person trial in South Africa.

In this, nine people – all in the placebo group – got COVID-19, with six of these cases caused by the Beta variant. 

This translates to a 100% effectiveness rate in this small trial. 

In a 800-person trial in South Africa, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was 100% successful in preventing the COVID-19 Beta variant.

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Possible Side Effects

Vaccines have side effects, which are caused when the immune system reacts to them. This confuses people, who think that the vaccine has made them sick. But it really means that the vaccine is working. 

These side effects, which are usually mild, last for a day or two.  

  • Side effects can include:
  • Fever
  • Pain or swelling near the injection site
  • Chills
  • Aching muscles and joints 
  • Feeling tired 
  • Nausea/vomiting

Some people have a severe allergic reaction to the Pfizer vaccine, but this is very rare and can be treated. 

Usually, people stay for 15 minutes after getting the shot to see if it develops. 

It is important to let health care workers know if you have ever had a severe allergic reaction, or if you have allergy symptoms after getting vaccinated.

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Reports of Possible Heart Conditions

Health regulators are looking into reports that the Pfizer vaccine may be linked to inflammation of the heart muscle (called myocarditis), or the tissue around the heart (called pericarditis).Both of these conditions can be treated, and the cases of myocarditis largely resolved without any issues.

This is happening mainly in young men, ages 16 to 30, five days after getting the second shot. Let a health care provider know if you have  symptoms, which are chest pain, shortness of breath and heart palpitations. 

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mRNA Concerns

Because the mRNA approach is so new, people have many questions and concerns about it.

People wonder if mRNA vaccines can track them, change their cells and their DNA, or make it impossible for them to have children – but the only thing these vaccines do is to get your cells to make spike proteins. 

The genes delivered with the mRNA don’t become part of your DNA. 

The mRNA cannot change your cells, it only delivers the instructions to build immunity against covid-19.

mRNA cannot track your movement!

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The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is...

  • Given in two doses.
  • Safe, and 92% to 95% effective at preventing COVID-19, 14 days after the second dose.
  • Safe and effective for people living with HIV and can be used with antiretrovirals. 
  • Safe and effective for people with pre-existing conditions that put them at higher risk for falling seriously ill from and dying of COVID-19.
  • Can be used by pregnant and breastfeeding women.
  • Being studied in trials to see if they are effective against the Beta variant, which is common in South Africa – and being modified to become more effective. 
  • Just as effective for black people (based on information from clinical trials) as people of other races/ethnicities.
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The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is NOT...

  • Given as a single dose.
  • Effective forever – we don’t know how long protection lasts, and the virus may change so boosters will be needed. 
  • Going to stop the pandemic right away – people will still need to wear masks and socially distance until enough people have been vaccinated.  
  • Able to have an impact on fertility or pregnancy. 
  • Not always effective against coronavirus variants.
  • Able to track or control people’s movements.
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How to get Vaccinated

New information on vaccines is coming out all the time. The health department has set up this page:

You can register on the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS):

1. Online at

2. Using the WhatsApp line 0600 123456

3. Via SMS by dialling *134*832#

4. Call the COVID-19 hotline 0800 029 999

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When to get Vaccinated

South Africa’s vaccination plan started in April 2021. The target is to have everyone aged 18 years and older vaccinated by February 2022.

The health department says this will be up to 40.4 million people.

The roll-out is by age groups (oldest first), some jobs (health workers) and some settings (such as old-age homes). Watch out for your turn and also help and encourage your friends and family when it’s their turn to be vaccinated.  

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