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Notes to broadcasters

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Farm Radio International has produced a variety of information resources on COVID-19 to help you produce informative programming and answer your listeners’ questions. You can find all of those resources here:

It is always a good idea to speak to local public health experts, particularly about vaccine availability. It is also a good idea to speak to your audience to understand their questions relating to COVID-19 and vaccines, as well as to community leaders who may be able to address these concerns and encourage the community to be vaccinated.


Basic information


How do the COVID-19 vaccines work?

To understand how the COVID-19 vaccines work, it’s important to understand these three words: pathogen, antibody, and antigen.

A pathogen is a tiny organism that causes disease. The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 disease is a pathogen.

The human immune system responds to pathogens by producing antibodies. Antibodies help our bodies recognize and kill pathogens.

The specific part of a pathogen that causes the human body to form antibodies is called an antigen. When the human body is exposed to an antigen for the first time, the immune system responds by producing antibodies that are specific to that antigen.

There are two kinds of vaccines available for the COVID-19 disease. The most common type (for example, Astra Zeneca, Sinopharm Beijing, Gamelaya (Sputnik V), Sinovac, Johnson and Johnson, and Bharat Biotech) contains weakened or inactive parts of the SARS-CoV-2 antigen. When someone receives that vaccine, it triggers an immune response that fights that antigen.

The other type of vaccine (called an MNRA vaccine and represented by the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines) does not contain the antigen itself. Instead, it contains a genetic blueprint of the antigen. When someone receives an MRNA vaccine, the immune system uses that blueprint to trigger an immune response against the SARS-CoV-2 antigen.

Regardless of whether the vaccine includes a weakened or inactive part of the antigen itself or a blueprint that the body can use to produce antibodies, the COVID-19 vaccine does not cause a person to get sick with COVID-19. Rather, it triggers the immune system to respond as if it is encountering the actual pathogen—by triggering the human system to create antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 virus.

How were the vaccines developed so quickly?

In the past, it took many years to develop a vaccine and distribute it to the public. But the COVID-19 vaccines were publicly available less than a year after the virus emerged. There are many reasons why this was possible.

Over decades of creating vaccines, research groups and public health agencies realized that vaccine development was too slow and have improved the quality and speed of their work. Also, researchers have been studying coronaviruses for decades and have learned from two other coronaviruses that affected humans in the past 20 years: SARS and MERS. After the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 disease was identified, scientists mapped its DNA genome (genetic code) within two weeks. This helped them identify target exactly what kind of vaccine could work against COVID-19.

Also, powerful partnerships were formed to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Scientists in many countries and many organizations shared data and discussed the best ways to fight the virus.

Globally, funding came from many sources, including non-profit groups, government groups, private citizens, and health companies.

It has often taken years to test vaccines in clinical trials. Organizing tests, gathering volunteers, and rolling out the three different phases of clinical tests required to ensure safety and effectiveness is often the longest part of developing a vaccine.

But for the COVID-19 vaccines, the different phases of testing were conducted with different groups of volunteers in overlapping schedules, and vaccine approval agencies studied test data as it was generated.

Also, many companies were granted funds that allowed them to begin manufacturing the vaccines before they were fully approved. For those vaccines that were later approved, this paid off by cutting months off the time it would have taken to get the vaccines to the public.

It’s important to note that the COVID-19 vaccines passed many scientific tests in laboratories, thanks to the tens of thousands of people who tried them. The vaccines meet strict standards set by government health agencies in countries around the world.

The vaccines were tested first in animals. Then they were tested in a series of clinical trials that included many tens of thousands of people. The data from these tests were collected and submitted to health authorities and other scientific groups in countries around the world. These groups looked at the data carefully before they decided that the vaccines currently being used are both safe and effective.

It’s also important to note that scientific and regulatory work on the vaccines hasn’t stopped. Anyone who receives a vaccine can share information about their personal experience and contribute to better understanding of how the vaccines work.

Are vaccinated people immune to all types of coronavirus?

COVID-19 is one example of a coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a group of related viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds. Examples of diseases caused by coronaviruses include the common cold (which is also caused by other types of viruses), and viruses with more serious impacts on human health such as those that cause SARS, MERS, and COVID-19.

The COVID-19 vaccines have been designed to increase immunity only to the COVID-19 virus, not to other coronaviruses.

All viruses change constantly through mutation, and new variants regularly emerge. A few of the COVID-19 variants are more transmissible and/or lead to more serious impacts on health than the original COVID-19 virus. As of September 2021, all vaccines in common use strongly reduce the number of serious illnesses and hospitalization due to infection with all COVID-19 variants, including the Delta variant. However, vaccines are either somewhat or moderately less effective at stopping transmission of the Delta variant. Serious illnesses and hospitalization are much less common amongst fully vaccinated individuals.

Can you still get COVID-19 after being vaccinated? Or is this fake news?

There is a chance that people who have been fully vaccinated could still fall ill with COVID-19, especially the new and more highly infectious Delta variant. Vaccinated individuals who are infected can also transmit the virus to other people. However, it is important to note that their rate of infection is much lower than unvaccinated or even partially vaccinated individuals. Also, the chances of vaccinated individuals becoming seriously ill from the infection are much, much lower than for individuals who are unvaccinated.

I understand that I can still get COVID-19 after I’m vaccinated. Should I avoid vaccination so I don’t get all the side effects of vaccination?

Receiving a recommended vaccine provides a high level of protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death as a result of COVID-19 infection. That protection includes all variants of the virus, including the more transmissible Delta variant. Read the WHO Emergency Use Listing for more information on recommended vaccines. The vaccines developed by Pfizer, Astrazeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sinopharm, and Moderna are all on this list.

Side effects usually occur within the first few days of getting a vaccine. Since the first mass vaccination program started in December 2020, more than 6.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered globally. The side effects of vaccination are almost always mild and typically include the following symptoms: arm soreness, mild fever, tiredness, headaches, and muscle or joint aches. These symptoms show that your body is building protection to COVID-19 infection.

There have also been reports of blood clots 3 to 30 days after vaccination with the AstraZeneca and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines. These are serious but very rare.

Nevertheless, public health officials advise unvaccinated individuals that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is far greater and more serious than the risk from the side effects of receiving any approved vaccine.

It is important to note that none of the vaccines that have been given Emergency Use Listing by WHO contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that COVID-19 vaccines cannot make you sick with COVID-19.

Can someone who has contracted COVID-19 be vaccinated?

Yes, it’s recommended that people who have been infected with the COVID-19 virus receive the full number of vaccine doses. While individuals who have been infected with COVID-19 develop some measure of immunity against COVID-19, it is difficult to tell how long such immunity will last and how strong it will be. So the World Health Organization and other health organizations advise individuals to be fully vaccinated.

Why do I need to wear a mask after vaccination?

COVID-19 vaccines provide very good protection against serious illness and death. There is also emerging evidence to suggest that the COVID-19 vaccines reduce infection and transmission of the virus, although we won’t know for certain until more studies are done. For this reason, and because many people are not yet fully vaccinated, it’s important to maintain other ways of protecting yourself and others.

To keep themselves and other people safe, vaccinated individuals should continue to wear masks, maintain at least a 1-metre distance from others, cover a cough or sneeze into their elbow, and clean their hands frequently. This is particularly important when individuals are in enclosed, crowded, or poorly ventilated spaces. Always follow guidance from local authorities based on the situation and risk where you live.

For more information on preventative measures, read our Key information on COVID-19 for broadcasters.

Why are people in India dying from COVID-19 despite being the source of the vaccine?

India’s population is approximately 1.4 billion, so vaccinating everyone is a huge task. As of August 24, 2021 an estimated 33% of the population in India had received one dose, while only about 9.5% were fully vaccinated. Also, the capacity of Indian health services to identify, isolate, and treat people suffering with COVID-related illnesses is limited, especially in rural areas.



How are patients with 0, 1 or 2 doses of vaccine reacting to COVID-19?

Most COVID-19 vaccines found on the WHO Emergency Use Listing require two doses a number of weeks apart, while the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine requires only one.

Those who have taken only one of two required doses of a vaccine are significantly less protected against infection and illness than those who have taken both doses.

Like other kinds of vaccines (measles, etc.), being fully vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine is not a guarantee that an individual will not be infected or ill. However, people who receive the required number of doses who become infected are much less likely to develop serious illness requiring hospitalization, and very much less likely to die.

It should also be noted that people who receive a full course of vaccinations are not fully protected until 2-4 weeks after their final vaccination.

How long is the first dose effective?

The first dose of a vaccine that requires two doses provides considerably less protection than receiving both doses.

It is currently unclear how long the first of two vaccine doses is effective against the COVID-19 virus, mostly because COVID vaccines have existed for less than a year and there is little information on how long they last.

However, it is known that for some vaccines, effectiveness decreases over time, particularly for older people. The WHO strategic advisory committee recently proposed that a third dose be given only for the oldest age groups who have received the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines. It is also recommended that individuals with a compromised immune system receive a third dose as well, as they may not have developed a strong immune response after the initial two doses.

What are the consequences if you don’t get the second dose?

If you only get one dose of a vaccine requiring two doses, you will be less protected against infection with COVID-19 and at greater risk of becoming ill.

It’s also important to note that the maximum protection given by a vaccine is not reached until several weeks after the final vaccine dose. Thus, if you receive a two-dose vaccine, you will receive the full benefit only 2-4 weeks after the second dose.

Is it safe and effective to mix vaccines—for example, getting a first dose of one vaccine and a second dose of a different vaccine?

Researchers are currently studying whether it’s acceptable to receive a first dose of one vaccine and a second dose from a different vaccine. According to the World Health Organization, recent research shows that receiving a second dose of Pfizer after a first dose of AstraZeneca is safe and effective where supply of AstraZeneca is limited.


Contributed by: Vijay Cuddeford, Managing editor, Farm Radio International

Reviewed by: The World Health Organization (WHO)

This resource was supported with the aid of a grant from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development through Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) and its project “Green Innovation Center for the Agriculture and Food Sector” in Nigeria.