How the COVID Vaccine Works
Updated: Jul 17, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic affected all of our lives in one way or another. Fortunately, the development of vaccines has allowed more and more individuals to protect themselves from infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to update their guidelines for what vaccinated individuals can do safely. At this point, those who are fully vaccinated can travel to more locations, gather with friends and family, and forego a mask both indoors and outdoors. If you are ready to get back to more of the activities you loved before the pandemic, getting your COVID vaccine can help. These immunizations have gone through rigorous testing and have been demonstrated to be safe and effective. Understanding how the vaccine works can help you know what to expect and gives you more information to make an informed decision about getting immunized.
The Basics of Vaccination and Immunity
When a germ, such as the virus that causes COVID-19, enters your body, it begins to multiply, which leads to infection and illness. Your immune system makes a variety of cells that respond in different ways to a virus. Macrophages are white blood cells and these digest germs, leaving behind parts known as antigens. Your body identifies antigens as dangerous and sends B-lymphocytes to attack them. Any cells in the body that have already been infected are attacked by T-lymphocytes. Both B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes "remember" familiar antigens and your body is able to fight off familiar infections more quickly and effectively than it can for new viruses.
The basic idea behind vaccination is that it leaves your body with a supply of B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes that "know" how to fight a specific virus. This enables you to develop immunity without having to actually get sick. The mechanism for developing immunity varies depending on the type of immunization. There are two major varieties of COVID vaccines: messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) and vector.
How mRNA COVID Vaccines Work
When an mRNA vaccine is injected, the mRNA instructions it contains enter immune cells in your body. You should know that the vaccine material never enters the nucleus of the cell that contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and therefore cannot alter the cell's genetic material. Your cells use the mRNA to learn how to make a harmless "spike protein" that is found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. Then, the cell's surface displays the spike protein, prompting your body to build an immune response and make antibodies. The process is similar to what would happen if you were actually infected with COVID-19, but without the risk of illness. The first dose produces a weaker response and two shots have been shown to be more effective at building immunity. The Moderna vaccine is one example of an mRNA immunization for COVID.
How Vector Vaccines Work
Vector vaccines use a modified version of a virus, known as a vector, to give your cells instructions how to build immunity. The vector is not the virus that causes COVID-19 but is instead a different, harmless virus. This vector then prompts cells in your body to make a COVID spike protein, similar to what occurs with an mRNA vaccine. The cell then displays the spike protein and an immune response is triggered, causing your body to create antibodies. The Janssen one-dose immunization is an example of a vector vaccine.
COVID Vaccines in Tucson
MD Acute has the Moderna and Janssen COVID vaccines available. These shots are effective and safe. Because of the way they work, they cannot infect you with COVID-19 and instead allow your body to build an immune response without the risk of serious illness. COVID immunization is free with or without insurance and we accept walk-ins Monday-Friday, 9am-11am and 1pm-3pm.