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Should People With Arthritis Get The COVID-19 Vaccine?

Are COVID-19 vaccines effective for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? Affordable medical insurance providers, Affinity Health explores what research suggests so far.


What Is RA?

RA is defined by Mayo Clinic as an autoimmune disorder that affects the joints, causing inflammation and pain.  As the disease progresses, symptoms often spread to the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips and shoulders. About 40% of people who have RA also suffer damage to the skin, eyes, lungs, heart and blood vessels.


Contrary to some belief, the disease is not reserved for the elderly and can strike at any age. In fact, between 19 000 and 75 000 children are reported by News24 to be living with AR in South Africa. Some of these children are as young as 15 months old, and many of whom are not correctly diagnosed and therefore do not receive the proper treatment.


While no cure exists for RA, it can be managed with Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids and other medications.




COVID-19 is a serious disease that’s has killed more than 4.51-million people worldwide and left millions of others with lingering symptoms, including shortness of breath, fatigue, and brain fog.


It’s widely known that those with comorbidities such as obesity, diabetes, asthma or chronic lung disease are at a higher risk of developing serious illness from the coronavirus.


Fortunately, research so far suggests that people with arthritis are not at increased risk of Covid complications. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), being on immune-weakening medicines or having cardiovascular disease does make people more prone to severe COVID-19 outcomes.



RA And Vaccinations

What does that mean for RA patients on immune-weakening medicines in terms of getting the COVID-19 vaccination?


Vaccines generally comprise weakened or inactive portions of a certain organism that cause the body to respond with an immune response. This weaker version of the vaccine will not cause sickness in the person who receives it, but it will stimulate their immune system to respond.


Some vaccines require several doses separated by weeks or months. This is sometimes required to allow for the establishment of memory cells and the creation of long-lasting antibodies.


The body is therefore trained to fight the specific disease-causing organism, forming memory against it so that it can fight it again in the future.


Currently, there are two vaccine variations offered in South Africa – the Pfizer vaccine and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.



The Pfizer Vaccine Versus Johnson And Johnson Vaccine


The Pfizer vaccine is an injection of messenger RNA, which is a new vaccination technology that differs from traditional vaccines. On the other hand, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is delivered by an inactive form of adenovirus. This is a type of virus associated with the common cold. In comparison to the dangers of COVID-19, the risks of vaccination appear to be minor.


“RD patients have several crucial issues about vaccinations. It is difficult to provide definitive answers at this time. What we can say is that The CDC specifically state that people with autoimmune conditions may receive a COVID-19 vaccine.


That’s because the COVID-19 vaccines do not include any of the actual coronavirus so there is no issue raised for people who are severely immunocompromised> These would be people who are generally advised not to receive a live vaccine,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.


“The American College of Rheumatology also supports the notion that all RA patients should get a COVID-19 vaccine, but ideally at a time when their disease is well controlled. If you have any concerns about the Covid-19 vaccine, it’s best to always first chat to your rheumatologist or primary care doctor,” concludes Hewlett.


Read More: Why Vaccination is the Best Shot at Beating COVID-19



About Affinity Health

Affinity Health aims to provide premier quality, affordable medical insurance to South Africans. We strive to give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service when they are faced with injury or illness. We work to deliver innovative solutions that are simple, cost-effective, and proven, so our cover is structured to ensure that you get exactly what you need. For more information, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.


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