COVID-19: Vaccines Explained
The unknown can be downright scary at times. Unfortunately, the world is filled with a lot of uncertainty as the pandemic is about to enter its third year, with no clear end in sight. Despite Covid-19 being widespread and deadly, the prospect of getting a vaccination can also be unsettling for those who don’t understand the science behind them and this has led to misinformation. In this article we will try to present the facts and science behind the Covid-19 vaccinations. However, to understand how these vaccines work we must first understand a little bit about our immune system.
The Immune system:
Our immune system is a very complex network of cells and proteins that protect the body from invading germs (viruses, bacteria and fungi) that we come across on a daily basis. Our immune system keeps track of every germ it has ever defeated so that it can destroy it much quicker if we ever encounter it again. Unfortunately, it can take anywhere from several days to weeks to mount a significant defense against certain invading pathogens (germs). The immune system is very intricate and can be confusing to understand. The video below does a great job at explaining how our immune system works to protect us against such invaders.
Some dangerous pathogens can evade, replicate, and spread so fast that it can overwhelm our immune system and cause significant harm and even death. Scientists create vaccines to help us cheat and gain protection against the more dangerous pathogens, like SARS-CoV2 -- the one that causes Covid-19.
Covid-19 vaccines help you to create protective antibodies without ever having to experience the nasty parts of the disease. Much like other immunizations, there are many different ways to gain this protection. Historically, most vaccinations contain weakened or dead viruses, which can take years to develop.
The newer mRNA covid-19 vaccines (i.e. those developed by Moderna and Pfizer) can be made in a fraction of the time. These mRNA vaccines don’t actually contain any virus themselves. Instead, they contain a coded message on how to recreate a piece of a viral protein (a spike protein). Your cells use this message to make many copies of this viral protein and then distribute it throughout your body, allowing you to create a legion of protective antibodies that then work to attack the Covid-19 virus. While this technology can seem confusing and complicated, the video below does an admirable job at explaining how these vaccines work.
Myths about the Covid-19 vaccine:
Let's now apply some of that knowledge and science you just learned into debunking some of the myths and misinformation about the Covid-19 shot.
MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccine was rushed and isn't safe.
FACT: mRNA vaccine technology has been in development for over 20 years. They are approved by Health Canada and are backed by data demonstrating their safety, efficacy and quality.
MYTH: The vaccines can give you Covid-19
FACT: The vaccines cannot give you Covid-19; they do not contain a live virus.
MYTH: The vaccines cause severe side effects
FACT: The vaccines are all safe. Most side effects are mild and will resolve within a few days on their own. The side effects you usually exhibit are your body's immune system being tricked into thinking it is under attack (Fever, tiredness) and actually informs us that our immune system is doing its job.
MYTH: The vaccines can make women infertile or shouldn’t be used in pregnancy.
FACT: There is no evidence that the vaccines cause infertility in males or females. The Covid-19 vaccine should be given to pregnant women as they are at a higher risk of severe disease. Protective antibodies can be passed from the mother on to the baby.
MYTH: The vaccines contain egg proteins
FACT: The vaccines don’t contain egg proteins and can be given to people with egg allergies
Vaccine Take home message:
Covid-19 vaccines do not provide you with an outright cure or complete immunity to the virus. It will not stop you from contracting the virus if you come in contact with it. Instead, it arms your body full of antibodies that allows you to fight the virus off much quicker. Think of the Covid-19 vaccine as a shield, but not a full suit of armor. When going into battle with this deadly virus it is better to have a shield that provides you with some protection, as you are likely to only get a runny nose and mild cold-like symptoms. On the other hand, those without the Covid-19 vaccine are much more likely to develop severe symptoms (pulmonary fibrosis, stroke and neurological) that could land them in the hospital’s ICU or even worse.
Unfortunately, over time the effect of the vaccines (our shield) does wane as our antibodies levels slowly fall. As a result, just like the annual FLU-shot, we will likely need regular COVID-19 vaccine boosters. Also just like the flu, the covid-19 virus unfortunately mutates very quickly, which means we might eventually need to design a whole new vaccine to distribute. However, thanks to the exciting mRNA vaccine technology, scientists are now able to pivot and create new vaccines quickly when the need arises. Want to know more why there are so many variants? Watch the video below to learn why the Covid-19 virus mutates so quickly.
Masks are still necessary in public for the vaccinated
Even if you are double vaccinated, it will still be important to socially distance yourself and wear masks when in large public places. The covid-19 virus is expelled continuously from the bodies of infected individuals as they breathe. Think of a cold day... what do you notice coming out of your mouth when you exhale? Tiny water droplets that gently float away, drifting off, despite the fact that they are freezing and becoming heavier. Now imagine how many water particles, containing the COVID-19 virus, are being exhaled in a busy grocery store, a department store, a restaurant or a local pharmacy frequented by the infected. Recent studies suggest that the Covid-19 virus can float in the air within tiny water droplets for a minimum of 3 hours. To protect yourselves, please still wear a mask in public!
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All the best and Stay Healthy