The Science Behind the COVID Vaccine 

Sydney Thompson

Senior Staff Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to develop and change the everyday lives of students and the rest of the world, beyond just UNCG. Most people are tired of the restrictions and changes to the life they once knew. Many wonder when the pandemic will end. 

However, when will we know when the pandemic is over? 

A good starting point is the World Health Organization’s official definition of a pandemic.

A pandemic is “the occurrence of more cases of disease than expected, occurring worldwide or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people.” In March 2020 the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. A pandemic officially ends when it is no longer a widespread disease with many cases and no longer fits the World Health Organization’s definition. 

The vaccine is an important part of reducing cases and stopping the further spread of COVID-19. However, there has been a lot of misinformation spread about the vaccine and what it does and why. 

Below are breakdowns of the science behind each of the three major vaccines and how they work to help protect the body against COVID-19. 

Pfizer and Moderna

Pfizer was one of the first vaccines to emerge that could protect against the coronavirus. The main mechanism in this vaccine and Moderna is based in mRNA. mRNA is short for messenger RNA and basically works as a kind of code to your immune system. It has a very specific set of instructions for the cells of your immune system on what to do if it encounters the virus. 

According to the CDC, the bad symptoms you feel after the vaccine doses are essentially your immune system running a practice drill so that it can better fight off the disease.

This is not foolproof however. The reason that sometimes breakthrough infections can happen is because sometimes the virus is a little tougher than your immune system expected, according to experts Hinman, Mortimer, and Orenstein. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1342333/) Sometimes the variations can make it difficult for your immune system to recognize that the variation and the original strain are the same thing. However, these experts warn that you should still get the vaccine if you are able, as breakthrough infections are exceptionally rare. 

“The shortcomings of existing vaccines must not deter us from taking maximal advantage of their benefits,” the above experts say.

Johnson & Johnson 

Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine is closer to the traditional kind of vaccine, according to the CDC. It uses a dead version of the virus to train your immune system to defend itself. The virus in the vaccine is dead, meaning that it cannot transmit the disease itself.

Like with the mRNA vaccines that Pfizer and Moderna produced, the purpose is for your immune system to recognize what the virus looks like to be able to fight it. Most vaccines work this way, and it is based on the type of immunity a person can gain from having a certain disease. 

It is very important for anyone who is able to be vaccinated to get one of these CDC-approved vaccines. If the spread is not reduced soon, herd immunity and the medical end of the pandemic will be more difficult to achieve because with more cases are more chances for variations to evolve and develop. If we are not careful, there may even come a variant that can reliably break through vaccines. In order to prevent this, you must take action as a member of a globalized community whose actions can have dire consequences for yourself and others around you.



Categories: Features

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