When viruses attack the body they usually multiply, leading to an infection that causes illness. The immune system consequently uses white blood cells to fight the infection and restore a person to health. Researchers and drug manufacturers have been developing and testing vaccines for the COVID-19 virus in a bid to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and stop its spread. With the shipping of the vaccine now underway, it is hoped that the availability of the vaccine will help prevent the further spread of the pandemic in the long term. The findings below outline the different types of vaccines available and how they work.
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The COVID-19 Vaccine
- The vaccine is designed to help the body to develop immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19.
- Although different types of vaccines work differently to offer protection, they all supply the body with “memory” T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight the virus in the future.
- The first time that a person is infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, their bodies might take several days or weeks to utilize the fighting tools required to defeat the infection. However, after infection, the body’s immune system will remember what it has learned about the process of protecting itself against the disease.
- Therefore, when the body detects the antigens, B-lymphocytes will produce the antibodies to attack the antigens.
- It is important to remember that a person might be infected with the virus just before or after vaccination and then get sick because the vaccine was not given sufficient time to offer protection.
- Also, it is possible for an individual to develop a fever as the process of immunity begins after vaccination. These symptoms are normal and will demonstrate that the body is building immunity to the virus.
- People will require more than one shot of the vaccine if they are to get immunity from the disease. Most of the vaccines that are currently in Phase 3 clinical trials in the US require individuals to take two shots.
- The initial shot will help to build protection and the second shot will be given a few weeks later to give total protection.
- The vaccine will take effect 1 week after the second dose is taken.
- However, individuals need to stay with the same vaccine for both shots, even for the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna which have a similar structure.
Types of COVID-19 Vaccines
- There are currently three main types of COVID-19 vaccine that will be deployed for use that have been developed by Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.
- Two doses are required for the Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Moderna vaccines.
1. mRNA Vaccines
- mRNA or messenger RNA vaccines contain material from the virus that causes COVID-19 which gives the body directions on how to make a harmless protein, the spike protein, that is unique to the virus. This means that the immune system gets prepared to eliminate the pathogen if it attempts to invade.
- The spike protein is found on the surface of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Once the body’s cells make copies of the protein, they will destroy the genetic material from the vaccine.
- This is because the body recognizes that the spike protein should not be there, so it will build B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight against the virus in the future.
- The vaccine is considered to be relatively safe because it does not contain the inactivated pathogen of the sub-units of the live pathogen.
- Also, the vaccine is made up of synthetic mRNA that is encapsulated in Lipid nanoparticle (LNP), and this codes for the entire spike protein of the COVID-19 virus.
- mRNA vaccines do not interact with or affect human DNA in any way because body cells break down and dispose of the mRNA once it completes the instructions.
- mRNA vaccines are also easy to develop using readily available materials in laboratories, so they can be swiftly scaled up to ensure that a vaccine is developed faster to help individuals.
- However, because only a fragment of the virus is made, mRNA vaccines have the potential to prompt a poor protective immune response, so individuals might require multiple boosters.
- Reports indicate that the Pfizer vaccine (which is based on mRNA) has caused severe allergic reactions in some people in the UK. This means that individuals who are prone to anaphylaxis-like reactions should avoid it.
- The vaccine also causes unpleasant side effects such as muscle pain, joint pain, headaches, fatigue, fever, and chills.
- Also, the Pfizer vaccine has not been studied in immuno-compromised individuals, so they must consult their physicians before they use it.
2. Protein Subunit Vaccines
- These vaccines do not contain a live virus but instead include harmless pieces of protein of the virus that causes COVID-19 rather than the entire germ.
- When an individual is vaccinated, the body’s immune system will recognize that this protein does not belong to the body and it will start to make T-lymphocytes and antibodies. This means that when a person gets infected with the virus in the future, memory cells will recognize and fight the virus and generate healing.
- Because they have no live virus, protein subunit vaccines are thought to be safe.
- They can also be easily used by individuals with weakened immune systems without further damage to their systems.
- On the other hand, they can cause an insufficient immuno response, meaning that users will be expected to take multiple boosters for protection.
3. Vector Vaccines
- These vaccines contain a weaker version of a live virus that is different from the one that causes COVID-19. The virus will contain genetic material from the virus that causes COVID-19 inserted into it.
- When the live virus (also called a viral vector) is inside the body, it gives body cells instructions to make a protein that is unique to the COVID-19 virus.
- The body cells will thereafter make copies of the protein, thus prompting the body to build B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes which will fight the virus in the future in case of infection.
- In most instances, vector vaccines require only a single dose to offer long-term protection.
- Also, such vaccines specifically deliver antigens to target cells and allow for high expression of antigen after vaccination.
- However, people might already have high levels of immune protection to the virus vector that has been used, so this has the potential to reduce the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Additionally, the low-scale production of vector vaccines means that they can be less cost-effective.
Potential Differences and Similarities Between the Vaccines
- Unlike other vaccines in history, the vaccines for COVID-19 which are perceived as the front runners do not use live viruses to make them.
- The vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna use mRNA.
- The AstraZeneca vaccine is a vector vaccine made from a weaker version of a common cold virus (adenovirus) taken from chimpanzees.
- The two vaccine doses for Moderna and AstraZeneca will be given 4 weeks apart, while the doses for Pfizer will be given 3 weeks apart.
- In general, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are approximately 95% effective, while the AstraZeneca vaccine is at least 70% effective.
- Although the vaccines will be provided for free to patients, healthcare providers are expected to bill insurance companies and related entities. As such, the cost per dose for a Moderna vaccine is $37, $20 for a Pfizer vaccine, and $4 for AstraZeneca’s.
Pros of the Vaccinations
- The vaccines will prevent people from getting seriously ill even if they get the virus.
- Vaccinations are a safer way for people to build protection because research is still unclear about the level and length of immunity an individual can get after they are infected with the virus.
- All the vaccines from different companies are a critical tool in stopping the spread of the pandemic because even though people are maintaining social distancing and wearing masks, these measures alone are not enough.
Cons of the Vaccinations
- The vaccines from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Moderna are expected to have some side effects similar to what happens when a person gets a flu vaccine.
- These side effects will include fever, soreness on the site of the shot, and fatigue.
- Evidence about rare side effects is still unavailable and will only become known as more people get vaccinated.