As we enter the third year of the assault on humanity known as COVID-19, efforts to stop the virus and its spread have failed. But that doesn’t mean you should “shoot the (RNA) messenger”. Vaccination was claimed to be the road-block that would halt the spread of the virus, but this hasn’t happened, largely because of the poor uptake of the vaccine in our communities, which has prevented the achievement of herd immunity. However, statistics document that vaccination unquestionably lessens the severity of the virus’ symptoms and has done its primary job of decreasing hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 infection.
There is concern that people who are fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot have tested positive for the virus. This is often incorrectly represented to be an indication that the vaccine doesn’t work. In fact, the mRNA vaccine is working exactly as designed; it activates the immune system to fight an infection. But that activation doesn’t occur until an infection exists. COVID-19 infection presents an especially difficult scenario because the virus mutates so quickly. Yet, depending on the mutated form of the virus, vaccination reduces the severity, or sometimes eliminates the symptoms.
Unfortunately, COVID vaccination has become a highly-polarized topic, fueled in part by mandates viewed by many as an overreach of government power that is unconstitutional. (An opinion recently confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court recently Also, many people have decided not to get vaccinated because of misunderstandings of how the “new” messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine functions or how it was made.
The following paragraphs do not address any religious, political or policy objections to COVID-19 vaccination. Neither are they intended to be a recommendation to get vaccinated nor a recommendation against vaccination. Rather, they present an insight into the history and function of the mRNA vaccine and the technology that has enabled the creation of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, so that each person can evaluate the technology behind the vaccines and make a better informed decision about vaccination.
The concept of mRNA vaccine technology is not new – it was first presented in the 1960s. This technology initially turned out to be unworkable because RNA degrades quickly, thereby prohibiting delivery of “the vaccine message” to cells within the body. Ultimately, scientists overcame this obstacle with nanotechnology (using fatty droplets and lipid nanoparticles), to wrap the mRNA like an envelope, which significantly slowed the degradation rate. Because RNA is inherently unstable and prone to degradation, the mRNA vaccines have to be stored at extremely low temperatures.
Once the mRNA has been stabilized within nanoparticles, the RNA message it carries is able to enter the body’s immune cells including B-cells (which produce the resultant antibodies) and T-cells (which seek to destroy the virus-infected cells). Once inside these immune cells, the message serves as a set of instructions for creating proteins (like the spike proteins on the surface of a COVID-19 virus) that then “teaches” the immune system to recognize an invader (in this case the COVID-19 virus) and build an immune defense against the virus for protection.
As Dr. Audrey Arona, District Health Director for Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Public Health Depart
ment, explains, “The body’s T-cells and B-cells are the body’s immune cells that get stimulated by the mRNA vaccines. After approximately 30 days, all traces of the vaccine are absent from our body, and what is left is the immune system response itself. This is what is needed to fight off the virus.”
She further states, “Individuals sometimes feel fatigue, fever, headaches, chills or body aches after receiving a vaccination, and these are considered normal side effects after receiving a vaccine. This means that our body’s immune system is working hard to develop immunity to COVID-19. If these symptoms do not occur, however, it does not mean the vaccine is not working.”
A life-threatening reaction, although extremely rare (less than 1 per 5million people vaccinated) is anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction causing a dramatic drop in blood pressure and resultant shortness of breath. This occurs almost immediately after injection of the vaccine and is the primary reason that vaccine recipients are asked to stay for 15-30 minutes after their COVID-19 vaccine injection. This reaction is treated with an Epi-Pen and antihistamines which are readily available at vaccine sites.
Vaccines to combat COVID-19 were created “at light speed” because the mRNA nanotechnology had been developed years earlier, and most notably used to fight the more recent Ebola virus. mRNA vaccines can be developed much faster than conventional vaccines which require months of growth in petri dishes, and long processes to manufacture large amounts of vaccine for distribution. Another advantage of the mRNA vaccine is that as new variants of COVID-19 emerge, newer mRNA vaccines directed against the changing viral proteins and spike proteins can also be developed quickly.
Whether vaccinated or not, you can boost your immune system by taking recommended daily dosages of Vitamin C, D3 and Zinc. “Recommended” is the key message here, according to Dr. Arona. “Recommended doses – and not more – are necessary to avoid toxicity from excess Zinc and/or vitamins.”
From all indications, or at least until our country reaches herd immunity, COVID-19 in some form is here to stay. As such, it is important for everyone to take the steps they feel appropriate to avoid infection and minimize the effects if they do get infected.