Updated: Feb 28, 2021
By Heather Nguyen
Image Via Johns Hopkins Medicine
With COVID-19 being such a new disease and greatly impacting the world, scientists have been trying to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible. Whilst it may not be possible for every human being to receive the vaccine, scientists hope that with enough people vaccinated, herd immunity will be achieved.
Vaccines work by allowing your immune system to recognize the antigens of a virus and develop the necessary antibodies or proteins to fight against it. Whilst the majority of vaccines use a weakened or inactivated strand of the virus to activate an immune response, the COVID-19 vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, meaning it does not use any strand of SARS-CoV-2. Therefore, it does not interact with DNA in the cell’s nucleus, nor can it make you sick with COVID-19. Instead, the mRNA administered through the vaccine provides special instructions for our cells to make spike proteins, which can also be found on the surface of SARS-CoV-2. After these proteins are created, our cells automatically break down the mRNA that was administered through the vaccine and discards it. However, spike proteins are completely harmless by themselves. They prepare our immune system to recognize them as foreign molecules and develop antibodies against them, which will in turn allow our bodies to have an immune response against SARS-CoV-2 if it were to ever enter our bodies.
After many months of trial and error, two different types of COVID-19 vaccines have finally been authorized and are being distributed to the general population: Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires 2 doses, each 21 days apart, and is an intramuscular injection via the upper arm. This vaccine is recommended for ages 16 and older. Results from clinical trials showed that it had a 95% efficacy rate of prevention. The Moderna vaccine also requires 2 doses, each 28 days apart, and is also an intramuscular injection via the upper arm. This vaccine is recommended for ages 18 and older. Results from clinical trials showed that it had a 94.1% efficacy rate of prevention.
With a limited supply of vaccines available for US citizens, the CDC has recommended for the vaccine to be administered in three phases: Phase 1a, 1b, and 1c. Phase 1a is the first phase for the vaccine and includes all healthcare personnel and long-term care facility residents. Phase 1b is the second phase and includes frontline essential workers and people aged 75 years and older since they have a higher risk of illness. Phase 1c is the third phase and includes people aged 65 to 74 years old and people aged 16 to 64 years old with underlying medical conditions, and other essential workers. As soon as the vaccine availability increases, more groups will be recommended to receive the vaccine.
It is important to note that while these vaccines are both mRNA vaccines and therefore cannot make you sick with COVID-19, it is completely normal for side effects to occur. Common side effects include pain and swelling of the arm in which the vaccine was administered, fever, child, tiredness, and headaches. If this occurs, it is recommended for you to take an over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen to reduce the pain and discomfort of the side effects.
Remember that it takes time for one’s body to build the necessary immune response against COVID-19! Even if you have received the vaccine, it does not mean that you are completely immune to COVID-19. It simply means that you have some level of protection from getting sick; however, there is still the possibility for you to be asymptomatic and a carrier of the virus, spreading it to others. So please remember to keep yourself and others safe by wearing your masks and social distance even after getting vaccinated!
Written by writer Heather Nguyen