No, you will not contract COVID-19 from receiving the vaccine as there is no active virus, or inactive virus, contained in the vaccine. While it is true that many vaccines contain weakened or dead virus in minute doses to stimulate an immune response, this is NOT the case with the new mRNA vaccines and new viral vector vaccines. Science has found better ways of providing protection against many viruses. So, let us discover, in a simple way, how the vaccine for the Corona virus works to create that immune response. A vaccine is not meant to treat or cure disease, it’s meant to prevent us from getting sick from a particular virus.
COVID-19 is a coronavirus. Called such because the surface of the virus is covered in spike proteins that on electron microscope images, look like a crown. When you look up the word corona in the dictionary one definition is, “a part of the body resembling or likened to a crown.” The spike proteins are not what cause the disease. The actual RNA (think recipe or instructions) that causes disease is inside the membrane of the virus.
Types of vaccines being used to fight COVID-19
So, what is RNA? Most of us have heard of DNA, the genetic code of living things. Our DNA is in the nucleus of every cell in our body. Our DNA is composed of genes that encode for various proteins that our body needs to function. These proteins are not made by our DNA. Our DNA must first produce messenger RNA (mRNA) by a process called transcription. The mRNA then passes out of the nucleus to the ribosomes in your cells to produce the proteins.
A virus works by entering your cells and releasing its own RNA, using your ribosomes to make copies of itself. Viruses enter your cells by using their spike proteins to bind to your cells. In time, your body’s immune system recognizes the spike proteins and produces antibodies and activates T-cells to neutralize and destroy the virus.
mRNA vaccines work by introducing RNA to only make the spike proteins in your cells, not the virus. The spike proteins are released, and your body produces an immune response to them creating antibodies. Your immune system also remembers (memory B-cells) past infections so that a response to an infection can be mounted more quickly the next time your body encounters the same or similar virus. In the case of some viruses and immune response, this memory is very long lasting, even a lifetime.
mRNA vaccines are safe for several reasons:
- They produce only the spike protein not the virus itself.
- mRNA is transported out of the nucleus when your own DNA needs to make a protein. mRNA cannot enter the nucleus and interact with your DNA.
- mRNA is a short-lived molecule. After mRNA has produced the desired protein it breaks down. (This is why mRNA vaccines must be transported at very low temperatures.)
After the mRNA vaccine has produced the spike proteins, the mRNA is denatured, or destroyed. The antibodies that the immune system produces also eventually fade away. The only long-term result are the memory B-cells to assist your immune system in recognizing a similar virus in the future.
There are currently two mRNA vaccines approved by the FDA. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Viral Vector/Adenovirus-based Vaccines
Adenovirus (or viral vector) vaccines use a modified version of a separate virus (the vector) to protect us against a second virus. In the case of COVID-19 viral vector vaccines, the vector (not the virus that causes COVID-19, but a different, harmless virus) will enter a cell in our body and then use the cell’s machinery to produce the spike protein that causes COVID-19.
The vaccine cells display the spike protein on their surface, and our immune system recognizes it as a possible danger. This triggers our immune system to begin producing antibodies and activating other immune cells to fight off what it thinks is an infection.
The ultimate result is our bodies have learned how to protect us against future infection with the virus that causes COVID-19 without being exposed to COVID-19.
Currently, the only viral vector vaccine approved by the FDA is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
For further information, please visit the CDC website.