Science behind new vaccines


Finding a spot on their patient’s shoulder, a doctor prepares to vaccinate someone with the common flu vaccine. Two new vaccines meant to protect against the coronavirus use a new science called mRNA technology to create an antigen within cells against the disease.

John Robbins, Staff Reporter

This week the FDA approved a new coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer and German medical tech company BionTech, the first step in truly getting control over the spread of the pandemic. The approval was voted on by an FDA committee, and the final tally was 17-4 in favor of recommending the vaccine for U.S. citizens. An initial shipment of 2.9 million doses will be shipped across the country this week to the first groups of people ready to take the vaccine. The plan by the CDC is to order certain groups of people for the time in which they will receive the vaccine. The first group includes 21 million front-line healthcare workers and 3 million residents of long-term care facilities. Vaccines have been an established part of disease prevention in the U.S. as ten vaccines are recommended for children ten and under as a precaution against serious diseases like influenza and Hepatitis B. However, the science behind the new vaccines works differently than the ones that people may have gotten in the past.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines that help the body’s cells to make proteins that will trigger an immune response protecting against the coronavirus. The vaccinations have strands of genetic material inside a special coating. This coating protects the mRNA from enzymes in the body that would otherwise break it down and helps it enter the muscle cells near the vaccination site. Essentially the shot is giving your body instructions on the cell’s surface to begin producing antigenic proteins unique to COVID-19. This helps your body fight off future infections just like a similar preventative measure such as a dead virus would. While the technology utilized is new, it has been studied by top scientists for years and both of these vaccines were shown to be ninety-five percent effective in clinical trials involving over forty-thousand participants.
Even though all indications show that the new mRNA vaccines are safe, a minority percentage of Americans believe that vaccines, in general, can be dangerous or are not necessary. A 2019 poll from the American Osteopathic Association revealed that more than two in five adults say something has caused them to doubt vaccine safety. Although some of that distrust may be warranted, the spread of negative attitudes towards vaccines has grown exponentially in recent years due in part to anti-vaccine social media groups. These pages often share blatantly misleading information, propaganda or memes meant to influence its viewers. Opinions like this may extend to the coronavirus vaccine as only sixty percent of adults said in a recent poll that they would likely get a vaccine for COVID-19. Experts say that between seventy to ninety percent of the population will need to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity. Sophomore Logan Harlow said that he would get the vaccine: “Yes, I will most likely get it since I have a weakened immune system due to the medicine I take.” Whatever your thoughts on getting the new vaccine are, it is a huge scientific breakthrough to have multiple vaccines to choose from within a year of our first coronavirus case.