Explaining COVID19 mRNA Vaccines


Pfizer, Moderna, and now other companies have started to roll out their long-awaited COVID19 vaccines, which means many vulnerable or priority individuals have already received their doses and will be able to feel much safer moving forward in the pandemic.   

That’s the good news.  But according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, approximately 75-80% of the US population will have to get the vaccine before things can return to anything resembling normal; so the sooner people are able to get vaccinated, the better.  Still, it’s understandable how some people are nervous about getting a vaccine that was produced and tested faster than any other vaccine in history.  All the evidence, however, points towards this novel vaccine being nothing but safe, effective, and essential. 

So how does it work? 

Historically, researchers have developed vaccines by attenuating, or weakening, a given human virus until they produce a strain that can be safely used to inoculate people without actually making them sick.   The COVID19 mRNA vaccine takes a completely different approach to providing immunity.  This vaccine doesn’t contain any strain of the virus, and therefore doesn’t actually pose any risk of infecting patients.  Instead, it uses a partial copy of the coronavirus genetic code--an mRNA transcript providing instructions for the production of a protein widely known as the “spike protein”.  Once inside the patient’s body, the transcript is picked up by cells of the immune system and processed, causing these cells to build harmless replicas of the spike protein on their outer membrane before digesting the mRNA.  Other cells of the immune system then recognize this protein as foreign to the body and initiate an immune response.  It is this immune response that fortifies the patient against future COVID19 infections, making it much less likely that they would have a severe or deadly reaction to the virus.   

Even better--because of the way this new vaccine works, the risk of COVID19 evolving into a strain that is no longer affected by the vaccine is relatively minimal.  While the spike protein is harmless on its own, it’s thought to be a huge part of what makes the coronavirus so highly infectious.   So, in order to evolve and continue to infect people, the virus would have to stop producing the same protein that makes it contagious enough to infect people.  Either way, the virus loses. 

Are there any serious side effects? 

For the most part, all of the documented side effects of these COVID19 mRNA vaccines have been relatively mild.  Many patients experience soreness in the muscle around the injection site and nothing more.  Since the vaccines must be administered via intramuscular injection, soreness is to be expected, and can sometimes be accompanied by redness or swelling.  Beyond this, some patients also report dealing with chills, tiredness, and headaches.  The only potentially life-threatening side effect of the vaccine that’s been documented is allergic reaction, so as long as every patient communicates with their healthcare providers about serious allergies, the vaccination process should be relatively easy and painless.  Each company that has released a vaccine is required to have their own patented formula, so the ingredients of the suspension fluid that carries the COVID19 mRNA will be slightly varied between different vaccines.  If you have any allergies or are generally concerned about the ingredients of the vaccine, Moderna, Pfizer, and other manufacturers all have ingredient lists available online to ensure patient safety. 

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