Understanding How COVID-19 Vaccines Work

Understanding How COVID-19 Vaccines Work

Immunization, natural and prescribed, is a beneficial health and public health standard. Awaiting 70% of people to be infected by SARS-COV-2 certainly would impart herd immunity. However, this practice is dangerous and questions ethical medical practice when the virus in question poses such great risk. The goal of any vaccination program remains safety. Pre-exposure of the immune system to a manageable version of the (virus, disease, toxin) allows the immune system to mount natural and long-standing protection. The nucleic-acid vaccines (COVID in particular) are the product of an understanding of biology and advances in science. Understanding how COVID-19 vaccines work will help you make the most informed decision.

The Role of DNA

DNA is the code, it is the blueprints that outline everything about us. The DNA lives in the nucleus of the cell. If a cell is a house, the DNA would live in the master bedroom. DNA encodes genes, which are separate pieces of information for cellular function. One gene codes for the copy-cat production of enzymes, proteins, or other building blocks. It is like the control copy and control paste in your word processing program.  Keep hitting control-paste, and endless copies appear. Because the copying of the DNA can be forever repeated, there is no need for so many copies of the blueprint.

What are mRNA Vaccines, and How Do They Work To Prevent COVID-19?

Now, the DNA blueprint makes an in-between message before it comes to the protein. This in-between is called RNA, specifically messenger RNA or mRNA. One copy/gene of DNA can make millions of copies of mRNA. DNA lives forever (it is what is taken from fossils); mRNA has a short half-life and is very sensitive to the environment. By having a short life and sensitivity, the action of the cell can be controlled both accurately and precisely. DNA stays in the protected nucleus; mRNA whizzes around the cell. DNA is ol’ reliable and mRNA is the flashy, new car. Now the mRNA is itself a code for something else. It is translated into proteins, and proteins are the workhorse of the cell. DNA makes mRNA, and mRNA codes for proteins, and proteins get the job done.

Understanding How COVID-19 Vaccines Work

Enter the first vaccines being introduced to control the COVID-19 pandemic. They are mRNA vaccines. There are some key benefits:

1.The mRNA vaccines have to be delivered into the cell to work; they don’t need to be in the nucleus (like DNA), just in the cytoplasm (just inside the house but not in the master bedroom. (Because they are not in the DNA, we don’t worry about the risk of the mRNA jumping into our DNA blueprint)

2.The mRNA codes for antigen. In the case of SARS-COV-2, it carries the message for the spike proteins (the antigen). These spike proteins are the markers on the outside of the virus that attach to human cells to gain entry. They are the markers that we look for in the rapid tests and they are also the markers that elicit an immune or antibody response.

So, by delivering to the cells just the code for the antigen, the cells can make the protein antigen and then use it to build an immune response.  Traditional subunit vaccines, such as HPV, Hepatitis B and Pneumonia work in a similar way but required years of refinement. The novel mRNA vaccination, anticipating successful vaccination strategies, will allow for protection from the disease.

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We are committed to continue care for our patients. We remain focused, as always, on providing you with individual care that centers on you. If you have more questions on understanding how COVID-19 vaccines work or vaccines and pregnancy, please contact us for an initial consultation. We are here to help.

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