COVID-19: Vaccines 101

by Dr Makini McGuire-Brown

Sensible Talk!

So we actually started this conversation a while ago in our previous vaccine article! I may repeat some things, but it’s worthwhile reading the first ““““““““one for a general understanding. This article is geared toward the specific COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon, specifically:

  1. How were they made so quickly
  2. How do they work
  3. Side Effects

How were they made so quickly?

Vaccines can take years to make and in fact, failure is a lot more common than success. There are some pathogens for which scientists have been trying to create a vaccine for years and still have not succeeded, HIV being a perfect example. In the previous vaccine article we learnt that vaccines work by tricking your immune system into believing that you are infected and therefore the immune system calls out the warrior cells to protect you. By doing this your body is ready in case the real virus tries to infect you. The virus will not be able to get you sick and in many cases not be able to infect you at all. So why the quick success?

While money no doubt leads to increased resources and a quicker turn over of the fail-try again cycle, several years don’t turn into months only because of money. Scientists have been working on the underlying science of the first 2 vaccines for decades. Years of building upon each others’ efforts all culminated at the right time as necessitated by the situation. In a united effort, brains, will power and resources transformed decades of trial and error, finally, into success. This breakthrough in vaccine technology has the potential to enable future vaccines to be made in a much faster time.

How do they work?

Both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine work via the breakthrough technology; they are mRNA vaccines. Previously, most vaccines were made by using pieces of the virus in different ways so that it could activate your immune system but would not get you sick. With the new mRNA vaccines, the vaccine actually does not contain any virus particles in it. mRNA or messenger RNA is exactly that, a messenger. In our bodies it plays the role of sending out the message as to what genes should be made. In the vaccine, it sends the message to our body cells to make a protein identifier of the virus,a protein that is in the real virus that helps the body identify the virus even though the real virus is not there. Your body therefore mounts the immune response as previously discussed. Pfizer’s vaccine codes for one protein identifier and Moderna for another.

Side Effects

Firstly, during trials, there were no severe side effects of either vaccine. Secondly, it is important to understand that many of the symptoms that people experience when they take a vaccine such as pain at the injection site, mild fever, fatigue happen because your body is responding! It is mounting an immune response like it is supposed to. You are not sick! Most people don’t know that many of the symptoms of sickness actually come from your body fighting it rather than from the virus itself. The same thing applies, most of these side effects come from your body responding appropriately to protect you, the exact purpose of you getting the vaccine in the first place.

I hope I managed to simplify an extremely complicated topic enough for you all to understand! Hopefully we can all get vaccinated soon!

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Published by Dr. Makini McGuire-Brown

God-Lover, Mother, Wife, Physician, MBA, Language-Lover, Arts-Lover, Happy Caribbean Girl!

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