COVID-19 And Your Surgery

By Dr Mohamad Fadhil Hadi

Dear readers, an audio version of this article is available below

Malaysia has recently seen a surge in COVID-19 cases contributed by the highly transmissible Delta variant of the disease. As the number of COVID-19 cases in the country continue to rise, vaccinations play a huge role in our march forward to achieve herd immunity as well as protecting individuals from acquiring further infections.
Despite a slow start of the COVID-19 National Immunisation Programme (NIP), Malaysia now boasts one of the fastest vaccination rates in the world, doling out up to 500,000 doses a day in July. 
Vaccines can protect the people from getting and spreading the virus, and from getting seriously ill in the event when one is infected. This is especially vital for those who have underlying health conditions and are vulnerable to the virus. 
One of the barriers in speeding up the vaccination program was the negative public opinion and misinformation of the vaccine, spread by ‘anti-vaxxers’.
According to WHO, the risk of serious adverse reactions of vaccination is much lower than the risk of serious disease or even death caused by the infection with COVID-19. 

Here’s why:

  • COVID-19 vaccines were developed using science and research that has been around for decades.
  • COVID-19 vaccines went through all the required stages of clinical trials, extensive testing and monitoring that proved the vaccine as safe and effective.

Are there any associated risks to surgery after getting the COVID-19 vaccine? 

That said, we are also seeing a rise in myths associated with the administration of the vaccine. One of the most recent pieces of misinformation circulating online is regarding the risk of getting adverse reactions from anaesthesia, especially for those who are vaccinated. This claim has been dismissed by The Malaysian Society of Anaesthesiologists and the College of Anaesthesiologists, Academy of Medicine of Malaysia, and as to date, there is no scientific evidence to validate the unfounded misinformation. 
For this, it becomes important for patients to have a little background understanding of anaesthesia.
Anaesthesia is a treatment using drugs called anaesthetics to keep patients from feeling pain during surgery or medical procedures.

There are three main types of anaesthesia:

  • Local anaesthesia: used to numb just a specific location of the body temporarily while the person stays fully awake.
  • Regional anaesthesia:  Block sensations of pain from a large area of the body, for example, spinal and nerve block anaesthesia. 
  • General anaesthesia: Used to make a patient who undergoes a surgery or procedure to be completely unconscious or “put to sleep” temporarily. General anaesthesia can be injected into a vein or inhaled.

As described, anaesthesia and the COVID-19 vaccine operate in two completely different systems and as such anaesthesia does not pose any effect to our antibody, immune system or reaction towards any vaccines.
Hence it is safe for patients to undergo surgery under local anaesthesia even after getting the COVID-19 vaccination. 
At ALTY, in fact, we would encourage our patients to complete their COVID-19 vaccination before their surgery as this will pose a minimal risk of infection to not just the patient themselves, but also the healthcare workers in the hospital.

What should you do before going for your surgery

The type of anaesthesia used is usually determined by anaesthesiologists, depending on the type of procedure.
They will determine the best course of action via thorough investigation of vitals and make sure that the patient is medically fit before undergoing any procedure. 
It is best for patients to go for their preoperative visit and consult with their doctor or anaesthesiologist, so they can schedule or plan for the elective surgery accordingly.
During this session, I would encourage patients to share their medical history with their doctor, talk about previous experiences with anaesthesia and clarify any further questions that they might have. 
As an anaesthesiologist, I would advise my patients to rest for a few days after they have completed their COVID-19 vaccination, if it is an elective case.
This is because some patients may experience side effects such as fever, muscle ache or nausea post the vaccine, which are commonly seen. However, if it is an urgent case such as bone fracture or spinal injury, we would proceed to perform the procedure.  
In the face of uncertainties, people often turn to social media platforms for information. However, it is important to ensure that the information is obtained from trusted sources. 
You can always consult your doctor or meet a doctor through telehealth service for medical advice, if you are still unsure or need more information. 
Rest assured, Malaysia operates an internationally lauded healthcare system, and was also ranked first as the world’s best in healthcare with its world-class healthcare services and sophisticated infrastructure, by International Living in 2019.
This should give patients further confidence in their healthcare professionals in Malaysia as they strive to do their best to deliver a seamless patient experience.  

About the Author: Dr Mohamad Fadhil Hadi (pictured above) is Consultant Anaesthesiologist & Critical Care from ALTY Orthopedic Hospital. This is a commentary column. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this publication.

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