Your questions answered: the COVID-19 vaccine, virus variants and more

Melita Wiles

S&E Editor

 

What is in the vaccine?

There are three main types of the COVID-19 vaccine. First, the mRNA vaccine consists of certain materials from the actual virus. These materials prompt our cells to create proteins that are unique to COVID-19. The virus’ DNA is still present in our bodies, but our body now has copies of proteins that enable it to destroy the DNA and fend off future attacks. The second type, protein subunit vaccines, injects harmless COVID-19 proteins into our bodies, as opposed to contracting the entire virus that causes the illness. Our bodies respond by creating antibodies to fight any future invasions. The third type, vector vaccines, contain different viruses that can be thought of as a shell. Inside the shell are COVID-19 proteins that hitch a ride in the shell (hence the term vector).  

What is the difference between the three vaccines?

DO NOT wait for a specific brand of the vaccine. The best vaccine is the first one available to you. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is a two-shot process. Shots are administered three weeks apart. The Moderna vaccine also consists of two shots, but given four weeks apart. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine only requires one shot. DO NOT compare efficacy rates! These are not a measure of effectiveness. Efficacy is a ratio taken from trials that measures the fraction of those who got COVID-19 with the vaccine versus those who got COVID-19 with the placebo. The J&J vaccine is not “worse” than the other two.

What does the vaccine do? 

The vaccine is made to support our bodies in the process of developing immunity to the

virus that causes COVID-19. It is meant to protect us from the virus, so we don’t have to get COVID-19 itself to create antibodies. As the CDC puts it, “Vaccines train our immune systems to create proteins that fight diseases, known as ‘antibodies,’ just as would happen when we are exposed to a disease but – crucially – vaccines work without making us sick.” Our bodies are left with a supply of memory (T- and B-lymphocytes) that can help fight the virus in the future.  

Am I getting the actual COVID virus injected into my body? 

No. None of the vaccines that you can receive right now contain the live virus that causes COVID-19.

What are the side effects?  

Side effects include pain, redness and swelling in the arm where you got the shot, exhaustion, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea overall after the shot.

Are side effects good?

Side effects mean that your body is building protection and should subside after a few days, according to the CDC.

Will I need to get this vaccine again or is it a one and done thing?  

The CDC reports that they are still learning about how long the vaccines can protect people. However, experts have made educated guesses on this question. Some say the vaccines will last at least six to eight months. Once again, there is no set answer to this question yet, and federal health officials have not come out with any definitive answer.

Will the vaccine protect me from other variants?

Variants are mutations in the original COVID-19 virus’ DNA. Each of the vaccines currently in play are less effective against the variants discovered thus far. In short, continue to follow public health guidelines and wear a mask.

Why should I get the vaccine?

The science is sound. You are protecting not just yourself, but others as well. Each of us has a responsibility to our community that goes beyond personal freedoms. The shot is a small sacrifice to make. Do not make public health personal or political. Please.

Do I still have to wear a mask once I am vaccinated? 

Yes. You should wear a mask and practice social distancing when in public, gathering with multiple households of unvaccinated people, or visiting someone who is at increased risk from COVID-19. Still avoid larger gatherings and if you travel, and watch out for symptoms associated with the virus.

Can I pass the vaccine to others even though I am immune? 

People who are immune can still be contagious, that is why it is so important to keep following masking and social distancing rules in public and around others, especially unvaccinated people.  

What can I do after I have been fully vaccinated?

Once you are fully vaccinated, you are able to gather indoors with other vaccinated people without social distancing or masks. You can also spend time with unvaccinated people from any age from other households without masks or social distancing.

Will the COVID-19 vaccine alter my DNA?

No, COVID-19 vaccines do not interact with your DNA in any way. The mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response. The vector vaccine uses a different, harmless virus to deliver important instructions to our cells to start building protection. The vaccines do not go into our DNA in any way.

Does the vaccine insert a microchip in me?

No.