How Does the COVID-19 Vaccine Work?

The COVID-19 virus has claimed the lives of over 2 million people worldwide, kept countries in lockdown for months, and ravaged the economies of global superpowers. Our world has held its breath, waiting for the news of a potential vaccine. And finally, the time has come for this vaccine to be distributed to the world. As factories work at maximum capacity to produce more doses, the existing vaccines are being prioritized and given to essential workers and high-risk individuals. However, as we all prepare to be vaccinated, a new issue threatens to stop our progress – misinformation.

It’s no surprise that manipulated and incorrect information about vaccines has been circulating. Our ever-increasing use of technology ensures that many people get their news from unreliable sources, helping to fuel misinformation. However, with this article, I hope to clear up misconceptions and rumors that are floating around about the COVID-19 vaccine. We will start by discussing how the COVID-19 vaccine works, then move into the vaccine approval timeline, and conclude by debunking some vaccine myths.

Disclaimer: This article is based on the general concept of the COVID-19 vaccine and although there might be some minor discrepancies between the different vaccines that have been released, the way these vaccines work are very similar and these differences seem negligible.

How Does the Vaccine Work?

To understand how the COVID-19 vaccine works, we need to first understand how the human body fights viruses. After being exposed to a virus, the immune system remembers this threat and produces antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that circulate in the blood and throughout the body, disabling and eliminating threats like viruses. When antibodies are produced, the body remembers how to fight the specific virus that those antibodies disabled, making the person immune. This is the reason that it is highly unlikely that you can get  sick from the same virus twice. 

Vaccines encourage the immune system to create antibodies to fight off a specific virus, in this case, Sars CoV-2. Sars CoV-2 is the name of the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic. Sars CoV-2 belongs to the family of coronaviruses, a group of viruses that are united by one key feature: the spike protein. “Corona” is actually the latin root for the English word crown. Coronaviruses are lined with crown-shaped spikes, which are proteins that allow the virus to latch inside of the body and slide into cells. 

Although these spikes help Sars CoV-2 efficiently infect humans, scientists have used these spikes against the virus itself. Instead of using the fully active Sars CoV-2 virus in the vaccine, scientists are creating mRNA vaccines that isolate and inject the genetic blueprint of the spike protein of the virus. In simple terms, scientists are taking the genes (RNA) that form the spikes on Sars CoV-2 and including them in the vaccine. When the vaccine is injected into the human body, the genes travel to our cells and merge with the cellular genetic material. This forces our cells to create copies of the spike protein itself. The spike protein is harmless to the human body, but alerts the immune system and allows the body to create antibodies against Sars CoV-2. By creating these antibodies, our bodies become immune to Sars CoV-2.

One of the most surprising things about the COVID-19 vaccines is that most of them require two doses spaced out over 21 days. That’s because the first dose of the vaccine introduces the spike protein’s genetic material into the body and the second dose strengthens the immune system’s response in creating antibodies. This two dose method ensures that the vaccine itself will be safe and effective for the longest period of time.

Vaccine Approval Process

For most of us, the wait for a vaccine has felt like forever. However, in the medical world, the vaccine is considered to have been created in record time, due to the immense technological advances we have made since the last global pandemic in 1918. The vaccine approval process is essential for scientists to map out the progress they have made in creating safe vaccines.

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The process of vaccine approval starts with preclinical tests. These tests involve experiments that use appropriate parts of the vaccine on animals to ensure that it is safe. For example, an antibody response to an imperfect vaccine could increase the chance of getting infected. However, the COVID-19 vaccines have gone through numerous preclinical tests, so there is nothing to worry about in this regard.Once the vaccine passes preclinical tests and achieves the required results, clinical tests can begin. Clinical trials allow a small group of people to take the vaccine under extremely regulated circumstances. Scientists observe and monitor these people to ensure safety and efficacy while calculating the correct dosing. After clinical trials end and the vaccine has proven to have positive results, the vaccine has to be approved by an approval agency, like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Upon approval, widespread manufacturing and distribution of the vaccine can commence.

Common COVID-19 Vaccine Rumors

Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine is not safe because it was rapidly developed and tested.

Debunked: While the development of the Sars CoV-2 vaccine was rapid, no safety protocols and testing procedures were bypassed. In order to gain approval from the FDA, all of these COVID-19 vaccines had to pass preclinical and clinical trials with positive results. 

Myth: I already had COVID-19 and I have recovered, so I don’t need to get a COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available.

Debunked: There is not enough data to support the assumption that “natural immunity” from the antibodies produced by your body are enough to overcome a second COVID-19 diagnosis. To ensure the safety of you and those around you, taking the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available is essential.

Myth: There are severe side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Debunked: Side effects of COVID-19 are not common and neither are they severe. Pfizer reported that 15% of subjects, during the clinical trials, experienced mild symptoms, like chills, fevers, headaches, and fatigue. These symptoms were short-lived, lasting only a day or two. The “side effects” were indicators that your body was responding to the vaccine.

Myth: I won’t need to wear a mask after I get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Debunked: It will take a while for everyone to receive both doses of the vaccination (if necessary). To ensure the end of the pandemic, wearing a mask until our world is close to “COVID free” is the best option.

I truly hope that this article helps clear up any misconceptions about how the COVID-19 vaccine works and what life after the vaccine will look like. Remember to stay safe!

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VISHNU MANO
Editor at The City Voice | MIPA Honorable Mention Award Winner

Hi! My name is Vishnu Mano and I am an editor here at The City Voice. Apart from writing/editing articles, my hobbies include music, speech and debate, and coding. I play the violin for the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony and am classically trained in Indian Carnatic Music. I love to talk and compete in Public Forum Debate, Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Model UN, and Original Oratory. During my free time, I enjoy coding and running the computer programming club at City.