Updated: Apr 4, 2021
As you may have heard, the FDA recently approved the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for emergency use for the American Population. However, much of the general public are hesitant to be vaccinated, citing common misconceptions and dangers that the vaccine might pose.
Currently, the only authorized vaccines for emergency use in the United States are the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Both of these vaccines use an innovative technology known as messenger RNA vaccines. In fact, these vaccines are the first mass-produced vaccines to use this technology. Although not as established as traditional inactivated virus vaccines, mRNA technology is well-researched and perfectly safe for use.
Dr. Justin Dubin, a Urologist at the University of Miami, recently received the Pfizer vaccine. In an interview with Steven Liu, Dr. Dubin notes the mechanism of mRNA vaccines:
mRNA is kind of a map; it’s a cooking recipe for proteins. Instead of introducing a dead or deactivated virus, they created a cooking recipe for the COVID virus. They took one part of the virus and created an mRNA for the spike protein on the surface of the virus. When they inject that cooking recipe, the mRNA, into your body, it is accepted by your cells, which create that one spike protein. This spike protein is then recognized by your body and creates an immune response. So you create an immune response without actually introducing the virus into your body.
One of the earliest false claims about mRNA vaccines is that they could alter DNA. Many were concerned that the mRNA would stick around inside the body and cause harm. However, this is not true. According to Dr. Dubin:
Once the mRNA is used, it’s completely deactivated… it’s like you’re putting in something on one end, which is the recipe, and then you come out with the product of the protein. Then there’s nothing left of the recipe; it’s just the product. There’s only a finite amount because it’s introduced into your body, and there’s nothing else making the mRNA. So, you only have a limited amount of it, and it’s not going to be incorporated into your DNA or anything like that.
The mRNA vaccine cannot replicate itself inside the body, and it is impossible for the body to produce a virus from the mRNA of a spike protein.
Although mRNA vaccines are a newer technology, they are safer and much more effective than traditional vaccines due to their mechanism. Traditional vaccines often suffer from variations during the manufacturing of inactivated viruses. Vaccines such as the flu are grown in eggs as an inexpensive method for mass production; however, each batch will be different, and it is challenging to control growing conditions inside an egg. These inaccuracies are partially why the flu vaccine is often only 50% effective. On the other hand, mRNA vaccines use the body to produce virus-identifying proteins. Normally, when a viral infection occurs, the virus uses the body’s cells to reproduce. mRNA vaccines use the same concept, which results in the proteins being very similar to those of the COVID virus and proves to be highly effective.
Although there are two vaccines by two different companies, there will most likely not be a choice as to which vaccine you will receive due to the incredibly high demand. Dr. Dubin advises people to get whichever vaccine is currently available:
Right now, I don’t think that one is better than the other by looking at the data. They’re pretty much both as effective. I would be comfortable taking either one; I would’ve been just as happy to take the Moderna… I think that everyone should get it when the opportunity comes. Whether it’s Moderna, whether it’s Pfizer, I think they’re both equally as good at this point.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are similar and have nearly the same effectiveness. Pfizer is about 95% effective, while Moderna is about 94% effective. Don’t wait for a particular vaccine to become available; instead, get the available one as soon as you can.
Another common question is whether someone should continue to wear a mask after being vaccinated. Dr. Dubin states that YES, you must still wear a mask even after being vaccinated:
The data with regards to spreading the virus is still uncertain. It’s believed that the vaccine does reduce spreading of the virus to other people, but we still need to do more research. Just because you’re vaccinated doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be wearing a mask. I’m still wearing a mask; I’m still going to be social distancing. Unfortunately, I think that the masks and social distancing are here to stay for a while. I think that we really need to continue protecting ourselves and protecting our loved ones, our friends, and our family.
The vaccine is nothing like a bulletproof vest; it’s far from it. Just because someone is vaccinated doesn’t mean we know for sure that they cannot carry the virus and infect others. Instead, the vaccine acts as a second safety device to prevent major symptoms after being exposed to the virus. Therefore, we must continue to wear a mask and social distance to avoid exposure in the first place.
Data shows that the immune response to the virus does not last as long as we would like. In fact, there have been known cases where someone is infected by the virus more than once. The CDC states that even if you have recovered from a previous COVID-19 infection, it is recommended that you still receive the vaccine. Some evidence shows that the natural immunity from recovering from an infection does not last very long. The safest approach is for everyone to receive the vaccine.
The actual vaccination process is very similar to many other vaccines. Here is Dr. Dubin’s experience with the vaccine:
I went in, and they asked you a couple of questions about allergies, etc. The shot looks like any other standard shot. After you get the vaccine, the standard practice is they watch you for 15 minutes just to make sure you don’t have any allergic reactions or any issues. I had no issues, no complaints. The only thing I had was a bit of arm soreness, which was the same as any other vaccine or shot I’ve had in the past.
Once the vaccine is administered, it is not immediately effective. Data shows that the first shot starts to be effective around the two-week time for Pfizer. There is a required second dose to significantly strengthen the immune response by up to 40%.
The two vaccines currently available are equally effective, around 95%, and equally good. Even after being vaccinated, though, you are not considered fully immune and must continue to wear a mask. The vaccine is completely safe, and although it may seem rushed, it is based on a thoroughly researched technology. It was a true miracle that led to such a rapid and successful development of the vaccines. Both of the successful vaccines are undoubtedly the result of the entire scientific community uniting and devoting their time to developing a vaccine that will give us hope. All that is left is for everyone to be willing to receive the vaccine and continue social distancing and wearing masks after receiving the vaccine. Soon, we will be back to our normal lives.