Now that people are starting to get COVID-19 vaccines, many people are anxiously waiting for their turn. But because the first 2 COVID-19 vaccines approved in the United States are a new type called mRNA vaccines, many people also have questions about how they work.
If you’re still getting up to speed on mRNA vaccines, here’s the gist:
All vaccines work by training your immune system to recognize and fight a specific germ before it has the potential to make you sick. Traditional vaccines use the germ itself for this “training”, either a weakened or dead form of the germ, or a small part of the germ.
But mRNA vaccines have no germs in them at all. Instead, they deliver a small piece of genetic code (mRNA) that teaches your immune cells to make and recognize a key protein, in this case the spike protein on the surface of the COVID-19 virus.
When your immune system recognizes the spike protein, it responds just as it would to the actual COVID-19 virus, making antibodies to fight it. Then, if the COVID-19 virus emerges, antibodies will be ready to stop it in its tracks.
To wrap up this holiday of vaccine facts, try offering your readers some tasty truth sandwiches:
- mRNA vaccines cannot give you COVID-19. Remember, there is no virus in them, and the protein cannot give you COVID-19 either.
- 2 mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. The researchers worked as fast as possible to make the vaccines, but they didn’t skip any steps or cut any corners. Researchers have completed all the usual phases of clinical trials and given the vaccines to tens of thousands of people, so we can be sure they are safe and working to prevent COVID-19.
- mRNA vaccines do not change your genes. You may hear concerns that mRNA from vaccines can stay in your cells and affect your DNA, but that’s not true. In fact, your body destroys vaccine mRNA within hours of vaccination. The mRNA comes in, does its thing, and then it goes out.
- Serious side effects from these vaccines are rare, and getting vaccinated is much less risky than getting vaccinated against COVID-19. It’s common for people getting a vaccine to have a headache or a fever or feel tired and sore for a day or two, and that’s actually a good thing. These are signs that the vaccine is working.
And while you’re spreading the good news about new vaccines, remember to encourage people to continue taking other steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the past. and: after vaccination. It will be a while before most people can get the vaccine, so it’s important to keep doing everything we can to keep everyone safe.
Bottom line: Explaining mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in plain language can help ease people’s fears and make them more likely to choose to get vaccinated.
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