As I am sure most of you are aware, the first vaccine for COVID-19 has been authorized and recommended for use by the FDA, and healthcare workers have already started receiving the vaccine. A second vaccine is expected to be authorized and recommended for use in the coming days, and there are clinical trials in progress or being planned for 2 additional vaccines for COVID-19. This is fantastic news, which gives us hope that the end of this pandemic will soon be in sight. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of dark tunnel to get through before we reach the light at the end.
There is some skepticism about the vaccine for some people. I hope that I can answer your questions about the vaccines with the information I am providing. I thought that I would start with a primer about vaccines in general.
Just how does the immune system fight infections like COVID-19?
To understand how a vaccine works, it helps to understand how your body fights an infection. When a virus enters the body, it invades cells and takes them over to multiply itself. Your immune system then uses a few different tools to fight off the invading virus.
White blood cells (WBCs) are the primary defenders against infection. Some WBCs swallow up and digest the germs. This leaves behind little parts of the virus that other WBCs can use to identify the virus and attack it in other ways, including making antibodies to fight it.
The very first time you get infected with a virus, it can take several days or even weeks for this system to work, but antibodies remain in your body to protect against the virus in the future. There are also special WBCs that remember the infection and will start making more antibodies if they see it again.
How do vaccines work?
Many vaccines put either a weakened or a killed germ into our bodies to trigger an immune response. Your body recognizes the germ as foreign and starts the process of making antibodies against it.
The COVID-19 vaccine is a new type called an mRNA vaccine. These vaccines give instructions for our cells to make a harmless piece of the virus. This harmless piece of the virus then triggers our immune system to start the immune response and make antibodies.
Was the COVID-19 vaccine developed too fast to be safe?
It may seem like this was done fast but the technique of making mRNA vaccines has been developed over many years. The first scientist came up with the idea in 1990 and the technique has been developed and perfected by many different scientists over the 30 years since then. Once COVID-19 came into the picture, all they needed was to identify the harmless piece of the virus to trigger the immune response and the vaccine could be made quickly. The clinical trials were conducted as usual clinical trials are with more than 100,000 volunteers in these studies.
The government processes for vaccine approval were shortened, but they did not sacrifice safety. mRNA vaccines are being held to the same rigorous safety and effectiveness standards as all other types of vaccines in the US. By making this a priority, they got advisory committees and FDA scientists together quickly to review all the data on both the effectiveness and the safety of the vaccine. This process was accelerated due to the dire need for vaccines as one of the many tools to help us stop this pandemic.
Vaccine misinformation is out there.
I understand that many people are hesitant about getting vaccines in general and especially COVID-19 vaccines. There is a lot of misinformation being spread about vaccines over various forms of media, much of which is coming from Russia. I hope that in making your decision about whether you will take the COVID-19 vaccine that you will get information from reputable sources, and truly inform yourself with good quality information before making this important decision.
Next week we will talk more specifically about things you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccines. In the meantime, please remember to continue those practices that we know will decrease the spread of this terrible virus, which include wearing a mask, staying 6 feet away from others in public, avoiding indoor gatherings, and avoiding large outdoor gatherings. To help keep your immune system working well be sure to keep up your regular exercise routine and eat a healthy diet.
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Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor