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No, you don’t have to ‘isolate’ for two weeks after Covid jab to protect others from ‘vaccine shedding’

Nobody tells you that, to protect others, you have to isolate yourself for two weeks after getting the Covid-19 jab. At least, that’s the claim on a graphic posted on Facebook in South Africa.

“As jy ingeënt is teen covid 19 is jy veronderstel om v 2 weke te issoleer om ander te beskerm,” it reads, in Afrikaans. “Niemand vertel jou dit!”

This roughly translates as: “If you’re vaccinated against Covid-19, you are supposed to isolate for two weeks to protect others. Nobody tells you this!” The information is attributed to a pharmacist named Gerda Visagie.

The long comment on the graphic links to a radio interview with Visagie. It also links to an interview with “die neurochirurg Dr Herman Edeling wat o.a. praat oor ‘vaccine shedding’ en 2 weke issolasie” – “neurosurgeon Dr Herman Edeling who among other things talks about ‘vaccine shedding’ and two weeks’ isolation”.

Does “vaccine shedding” really mean you should isolate for two weeks after getting the jab, to protect others?

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Keep to Covid-19 safety measures for two weeks after vaccination

It generally takes two weeks for a Covid vaccine to become effective.

Vaccines don’t work instantly. As vaccine alliance Gavi explains: “Vaccines prime the immune system to detect a particular virus or bacteria by showing it a harmless version of the pathogen.” The body’s immune system learns to recognise the pathogen and builds immunity against it.

Covid-19 vaccines typically deliver a small piece of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, or a part of its genetic material, which the body uses to build a piece of the virus.

Because immunity takes time to develop, it is recommended that we don’t abandon Covid-19 precautions immediately after vaccination.

The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) advises people to “be patient” after vaccination. The amount of time before a person is considered “fully vaccinated” is roughly two weeks, though it varies slightly depending on the vaccine. But people are not required to isolate during these two weeks.

This information is widely available – it’s not something “nobody tells you”.

At time of writing, the South African Department of Health’s official Covid-19 webpage recommends that “even after you’ve been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, you should keep taking precautions in public places like wearing a mask, staying 1.5 metres apart from others, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and washing your hands often”.

It does not recommend or require isolation.

No ‘vaccine shedding’ with Covid-19 vaccines

A common myth about Covid-19 vaccines is that they can infect vaccinated people with the disease, and infect unvaccinated people that the vaccinated come into contact with. The myth goes by the name “vaccine shedding”.

This is untrue. The myth has been repeatedly debunked by fact-checking organisations and experts.

“Vaccine shedding can only occur when a vaccine contains a weakened version of the virus,” the US Centers for Disease Control says. This means the virus is still live.

Dr Peter Wark, a specialist in respiratory medicine at Australia’s John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle and conjoint professor with the University of Newcastle, confirmed in the Conversation that vaccines that use a “live attenuated” – weakened – virus can, in rare cases, cause infection.

But Wark explains that no vaccines against Covid-19 use a live virus, even a weakened one. They either contain a single protein from the virus – the spike protein – or genetic instructions that allow your body to build that protein. These are known, respectively, as viral vector and mRNA vaccines.

Spike protein can’t cause ‘vaccine shedding’

The radio interviews the Facebook post links to further mangle the “vaccine shedding” myth.

Africa Check has previously debunked some of Edeling’s claims about Covid-19 vaccines.

In Visagie’s interview, she talks about an unnamed doctor who supposedly told his patients that they “moenie die spreekkamer besoek binne die eerste 14 dae nadat jy gevaccineerd is nie omdat hy sy ander patiënte wil beskerm teen die sogenaamde ‘shedding’”.

In other words, the doctor reportedly warned patients not to visit his consulting room in the first 14 days after they had been vaccinated because he wanted to protect other patients from the so-called “shedding”.

Visagie goes on to claim that this shedding is caused by the spike proteins of Sars-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. These proteins are the spiky structures on the outside of the virus that give it its distinctive crown shape, and its name. “Corona” is Latin for “crown”.

But the spike protein alone can’t cause Covid-19.

As one vaccine expert told fact-checking organisation Full Fact: “I can’t think of any biologically plausible mechanism for shedding of components of any of the licensed Covid-19 vaccines after immunisation.”

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