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How Do The COVID-19 Vaccines Work?

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

This is the second article in a series regarding the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  The first article can be found here.

There has been a lot of misinformation regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and what it does.  I decided to read into it to find out exactly what happens in the process.

Vaccines have worked previously (and how the Johnson & Johnson vaccine works) by providing “training” to your white blood cells on how to break down and eliminate a threat, without that threat replicating. Viral antigens from the virus, that is, segments of a virus and its proteins(inside an adenovirus), are introduced into the body through a shot. The white blood cells then use those antigens to create antibodies and responsive T cells that will prevent infection and replication in the case of the introduction of that viral pathogen. As a result of there being no active viral RNA, there’s nothing to replicate and therefore, the body simply eliminates these antigens.

The way the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work is actually a bit of new medical technology. Essentially these vaccines behave like a positive sense virus. Instead of learning to defeat a viral threat through the injection of antigens, they actually contain the mRNA of COVID-19 coated in lipids or fats. Sounds scary, huh? It is completely safe as the shot lacks the full RNA strand and thus is unable to replicate as a full virus and “commander” the cell to produce replicated RNA strands.

This type of vaccine essentially uses our own cells to create the proteins for SARS-CoV-2. As those cells present the proteins on their surface (or die), macrophages consume those proteins, learn to process and digest them, and then present these proteins to B cells and T cells which the body uses to then trigger an immune response. Any advantage SARS-CoV-2 had in “hiding” from the immune system is effectively eliminated, as both B and T cells are prepared to identify and handle the potential of the introduction of COVID-19 causing viral pathogens. In the event of the introduction of the “live” virus, the antibodies produced to handle the presented proteins from the vaccine will attach to the protein receptors of infected cells, preventing them from infecting other cells. The longevity of these vaccines is unknown, largely because mRNA vaccines are new and therefore long-term research does not exist.

Since the vaccines are not and likely will never be forced or required, many people will still be infected by SARS-Cov-2. As we move forward, COVID-19 (the infection caused by SARS-CoV-2) will become commonplace and an annual threat, just as Influenza. Certainly, they are different, but the way we approach it will likely follow the path of flu vaccines. As a result of seasonal mutations, the COVID-19 vaccine may need updates or a whole new vaccine the same as the flu. It potentially will be commonplace to receive a COVID shot along with your annual flu vaccine. The possibility exists that a single shot could be developed that would vaccinate against both.

While I have been extremely critical of government policy in the handling of the pandemic, I remain fascinated by the medical advancements that have created the COVID-19 vaccine. As of about a week ago, I was considered fully vaccinated against the viral infection. Just as I believed that the government had no business issuing and regulating COVID-19 restrictions and mandates, I also believe that receiving the vaccine is a personal decision and should not be forced upon anyone. Only 45% of the population normally received a flu vaccine, and I really don’t expect the COVID vaccine to be much different.

But as I always encourage everyone to get their flu vaccine every year, I also encourage everyone to get vaccinated for COVID-19. I am not a doctor (just a huge dork) and I definitely am not offering or distributing medical advice. I can however relate my own experience with the vaccine (it was actually more of a pain in the ass to get my vaccination card than the vaccine itself). I was administered the Pfizer vaccine and had zero side effects or any adverse reactions to it.