COVID-19 VACCINE FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
John Kitsteiner, MD, Emergency Medicine Physician
What COVID-19 vaccines are there right now?
Pfizer-BioNTech COVID Vaccine (also known as the BNT162b2 vaccine)
This is the first COVID vaccine available in the US.
This is the one that physicians and nurses are getting right now.
It is a mRNA vaccine.
Needs extreme-cold storage.
Moderna COVID Vaccine (also known as the mRNA-1273 vaccine)
This is the second COVID vaccine available in the US.
We will start using it in a few days from the date this is posted.
It is also a mRNA vaccine.
Does not need extreme-cold storage, this means it will likely be shipped to less populated areas.
First of all, how do vaccines work?
A vaccine works by making our body think it was infected by a bad virus or bacteria that causes a disease (tetanus, rabies, polio, influenza, etc.). When our body is infected (or thinks it is infected), it creates special cells called antibodies that remember what the bad virus or bacteria look like… it’s kind of like the antibodies are the “Wanted Posters” for the bad guys.
The next time the antibodies see the bad virus or bacteria, they recognize and attach themselves to that bad virus or bacteria. This prevents the virus or bacteria from entering cells to cause an infection, but it also calls in other immune cells to attack and kill the bad virus or bacteria.
Traditional vaccines imitate an infection by introducing either a whole virus that has been weakened (known as a live-attenuated vaccine), a whole virus that has been killed (inactivated vaccine), weakened toxins from a bacteria (toxoid vaccine), or parts of a vaccine or bacteria (subunit vaccines). Our body sees these foreign substances and creates antibodies (wanted ads) against them.
If your body encounters the real virus or bacteria, the immune system attacks it. The result is that you get a very mild infection with very mild symptoms or even better, you don’t get the infection at all. It is estimated that since 1962, about 10 million lives have been saved through vaccines. And that is not taking into account the number of medical problems that people would have developed from the diseases without dying (such as partial, life-long paralysis from polio, for example).
So what is an mRNA vaccine?
First… DNA and RNA and mRNA
Our body is built out of proteins. Proteins are basically the building blocks of life. Proteins, when combined with fats and sugars and water and minerals and a number of other things, make up who we are.
DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. DNA is the instructions or blueprint for building proteins, and therefore, life.
RNA stands for ribonucleic acid. RNA is very similar to DNA, but it is a temporary copy of the DNA, and it is used to build proteins. There are three major types of RNA, and they are all vital to building proteins.
mRNA (or messenger RNA) is one of the RNA types, and it can be thought of as the foreman on the building project who looks at the blueprint (DNA) and builds the proteins.
So then, what is an mRNA Vaccine?
A mRNA virus allows us to directly inject the foreman (with the blueprints) into our system, so that our body can begin to immediately make the immune cells to attack the virus that is attacking us. It means that immunity is developed faster. It also means that we can change the vaccine easily if the virus mutates.
Even though this is the first approved mRNA vaccine, this is not new science. We have been working on developing mRNA vaccines for cancer and HIV for many years. We’ve had some big breakthroughs in the last few years that have made mRNA vaccines a reality now. The COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly given scientists and labs a lot of funding to bring this technology to the street. There are a ton of really good articles you can read on reputable sites that go into the details if you want more information on the science behind mRNA vaccines and the really interesting future plans for this technology.
Will an mRNA Vaccine change my DNA?
No. The vaccine uses mRNA, not DNA. mRNA doesn’t stick around for very long. mRNA cannot combine with DNA. As I explained above, the mRNA is the foreman on the job who looks at the blueprints (DNA) and builds according to the plan. The foreman doesn’t change the blueprint; mRNA cannot change DNA.
Do these vaccines use aborted babies?
First, I am pro-life, so that is my worldview as I answer this question. I want to be clear about that, so no one will try to twist what I am saying as if I have an agenda.
There were cells that were harvested (taken) from two fetuses (babies) that were aborted in the 1970’s. These cells have been replicated over and over for decades, and they are used in biomedical research all around the world. Some vaccines and medicines are being developed using these cell lines. Companies are very open about when they do this and when they do not. There are a lot of non-government organizations who keep track of this as well.
Neither of the current vaccines have used these cell lines in the design, development, or production of the vaccine.
However, both have used the cell lines in confirmatory tests for the vaccine. They are not using any newly aborted baby’s cells… these are the same cell lines from the 1970’s.
If you get the vaccine, you are NOT getting aborted baby cells injected into you. But ultimately, you need to decide about where you draw the line on this issue.
Personally, I don’t like that these cells were collected in the first place. But I also know how much beneficial information that they have provided to us. I would be highly against any vaccine that uses newly aborted tissue or cells. But I am personally endorsing these two COVID vaccines.
Here is a great site that provides detailed information on this topic:
Allergic Reactions and the COVID Vaccine.
ANY medicine can produce an allergic reaction. For that matter, almost all foods can cause an allergic reaction. Vaccines are no different. Any vaccine can potentially cause an allergic reaction. These vaccine will likely cause allergic reactions. About 80,000 people received the vaccine in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine trials. No one in the trials developed allergic reactions. However, there have been some allergic reactions to the vaccines since they have started vaccinating front-line workers. These have been easily treated and no one has died from the vaccine. In general, as with all medicines, there is a risk to taking the medicine and a risk to NOT taking the medicine. Ultimately, that decision is your choice… and, in my opinion, it shouldn’t be mandatory. With that said, I do recommend getting the COVID vaccine.
Side Effects of the COVID Vaccine.
Most people have no side effects other than a sore muscle where the injection was placed. But some people are reporting fatigue, muscle and/or joint pain, and chills… basically, mild COVID symptoms. These side effects are not very common. But I do know one physician who has had these symptoms after their vaccination; they also get these same symptoms with the yearly influenza vaccine. Some people are more prone to getting a body wide response to vaccines. With that said, just like I mentioned about allergic reactions, anyone can have bad experiences with vaccines. As we immunize more and more people, we continue to collect and share data. And again, with that said, I do recommend getting the COVID vaccine.