While always a topic of interest, the COVID-19 pandemic has created more conversations than ever before surrounding vaccination. Specifically, many people are curious about the history of vaccines, how the coronavirus vaccine works, and how it compares to others. Dr. Meredith Moore, a board-certified allergist/immunologist on our Charleston Allergy & Asthma team offered some insight into these important topics.
A Brief History of Vaccines
In 1796, Edward Jenner created the first successful vaccine using material from cowpox to ward off smallpox. 1885 saw the creation of the rabies vaccine and, thereafter, as a result of the dawn of bacteriology (the study of bacteria), many advancements were made through the 1930s. These included the development of tetanus, typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis vaccines. Then, in the ‘40s, the flu vaccine became available. Currently, it’s one of more than 20 vaccines that are in routine clinical use in the U.S. today.
How were these and other vaccines made and how do they work? Many were created using a difficult, time-consuming process that involved:
- Growing enough of a dangerous virus or bacteria to mass-produce a vaccine
- Either inactivating it so that it can’t cause illness or purifying and stabilizing a portion of it so that it can be administered to patients
By safely introducing the immune system to the virus or bacteria, if and when real exposure happens, the immune system recognizes it as foreign material and aggressively launches an attack, producing antibodies to fight off infection. Is the same true of the COVID-19 vaccine?
What Makes the COVID-19 Vaccine Different
There are at least three things that set the COVID-19 vaccine apart.
- Although having been researched for decades, the coronavirus vaccine uses a new technology with mRNA, which is a code that helps the body to produce proteins capable of fighting the virus. The use of this technology eliminated the need to grow the SARS-CoV2-2 virus to produce the vaccine, which allowed for rapid and relatively inexpensive production.
- mRNA is nothing more than a code, similar to a recipe card with instructions for generating the proteins needed to combat the SARS-CoV2-2 virus. Since it doesn’t contain a live virus, it’s safer than its counterparts because it can’t cause mutations.
- The proteins in the coronavirus vaccine remain stable and potent in the vials without the help of the preservatives, adjuvants or antibiotics needed for other vaccines.
These positive advancements can give you peace of mind if you choose to be vaccinated. But you may still have questions.
COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs
You’re not alone if you’ve wondered about any of the following. Here are answers to some common questions about the COVID vaccine.
- How effective is it and how long does it last? The vaccine can provide up to 95% protection against COVID-19 and can reduce the severity of illness in those who still get infected. However, right now, it’s not certain how long this protection lasts.
- Why are some COVID-19 vaccines administered in two doses? The first dose exposes the immune system and the second boosts your antibody levels and immune response. The vaccine is only partially effective within two weeks of the first dose of the mRNA vaccines. Full effectiveness is reached seven days after receiving the second vaccine for most people, which highlights the importance of receiving both doses.
- Is vaccination necessary if I’ve already had COVID? Because we don’t know how long immunity lasts it is recommended that you still receive the vaccine. Plus, if you were to become infected again, even asymptomatically, you could pass the infection to others. The vaccine would reduce that risk.
- Are masks, social distancing and other precautions necessary after vaccination? Besides the uncertainty surrounding how long immunity lasts, it’s good practice to keep taking precautions. If a significant portion of the population were to publicly abandon the recommended safety measures before widespread vaccination, this could perpetuate the spread of the disease.
To stay informed as more information becomes available, visit the CDC’s vaccine FAQs. It’s also recommended that you regularly check for updates on South Carolina’s vaccination plan so that you can make arrangements to get your vaccine as soon as you’re eligible.