The Covid-19 vaccine

After almost a year of living with and trying to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, a vaccine is finally being distributed. While many people are glad to finally have something to combat the rapid spread of the virus, others are wary of it.

To hopefully ease some of the concerns surrounding the virus, here’s what we currently know about the vaccines.

The Making of the Vaccine

So far, there are three companies with vaccines in the third stage of clinical trials and two vaccines approved by the CDC in the United States: Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine and Moderna’s.

Both approved vaccines are given by an injection into the muscle in the upper arm and require two shots to complete the dosage. Pfizer-BioNTech’s being given 21 days apart, and Moderna’s being given 28 days apart.

Traditional vaccines contain a weakened strand of the virus it is planning to fight off, these vaccines are mRNA vaccines.

Diagram of how most traditional viruses work. [Photo Source: BBC]

The mRNA vaccines differ in the way that the train the body to fight off the virus. First, the virus injects a strand of mRNA, which is a special protein that can enter cells and then give them instructions.

The Covid-19 vaccines inject mRNA that tells the cell to build what is called a spike protein.

Spike proteins are the small red spike-like proteins on the outside of the Covid-19 virus. [Photo Source: fda.gov]

Once the cells produce these spike proteins in a large quantity, the body recognizes it as an unknown pathogen and begins learning how to fight it off. This can take a few days but because the spike proteins do not contain any of the actual virus, the patient will not get sick from it.

Rather, the body will simply learn to fight it off and then destroy the spike cells and the mRNA that was originally injected.

The result of this is that the next time the body recognizes the spike proteins, it will attack them and the actual virus, destroying it before it can cause any symptoms.

A simplified diagram of how the COVID-19 vaccine works. [Photo Source: WTSP.com]

There are a few benefits to this type of vaccine. One of which being the unlikeliness of the virus causing symptoms. Where traditional vaccines can sometimes cause mild symptoms because they are injecting the actual virus, mRNA vaccines do not contain the part of the virus that will cause symptoms.

The second benefit is how quickly it can be produced.

Many people have concerns about how quickly this vaccine was produced, and while there are many reasons for this, one of them is that mRNA vaccines are simply quicker to produce.

Another big reason for it’s rapidness is the fact that because the pandemic was considered a national emergency, which allowed for them to bypass many steps that the bureaucracy puts in place that are mainly concerned with money.

Allowing the companies that were developing the vaccine to skip these steps allowed for a much faster production of the vaccine.

So for anyone who is concerned about that, rest assured, the vaccine did not skip any steps or rush through the actual development of what was inside the vaccine.

Distribution

Right now there have been roughly 44 million doses administered around the world and about 14.7 million of those doses were in the United States.

The vaccinations in the US began on December 14 beginning with people most at risk for the virus on a daily basis. According to the CDC, the people at constant risk are healthcare workers and long term care facility residents.

They are considered group 1a and have been listed as the most important group to get vaccinations because of a constant exposure to other at risk people. Long term care facility residents and workers made up nearly 39% of the deaths nationwide, further proving why they are in the first group.

The second group, being called 1b, is made up of frontline essential workers and people aged over 75. Frontline workers include firefighters, police officers, corrections officers, and food and agricultural workers.

Group 1c is the remaining at risk citizens, such as people with previous medical conditions from 16-64, people above the age of 65, and other essential workers that are not included in group 1b.

The CDC recommends that these patients get the vaccine first in case of limited supply, so if a state has enough to supply citizens outside of these groups, they can begin supplying the vaccination to anyone despite age or medical history.

Map of how many vaccines have been administered in the United States. [Photo Source: CDC]

How to get the vaccine

Getting an appointment to have the vaccine is fairly simple. For Georgia residents and some other states, many grocery stores such as Kroger, Publix, and Ingles are distribution centers. Other states and countries will list distribution sites online.

Once you have located a distribution center, the site will list the current qualifications for getting a vaccine. Some countries and states will still be focusing on group 1a- 1c while others will have less restrictions on who can get the virus.

Georgia’s Publix distribution centers current requirements for the vaccine appointment. [Photo Source: Publix.com]

If you meet the requirements for an appointment, there will be certain times available and further instruction will be given through contact information regarding second doses and what you will need at your appointment.

In the United States, the vaccine may be free due to the government not charging people for the actual doses, however, they are allowing pharmacies and distribution centers to charge a fee for administering the vaccine, so price will vary depending on where the vaccine is given.

At most places, health insurance will cover the fee and for those without insurance, there are free options available depending on the state.

Hopes for the future:

With all this talk about what the vaccine is and how it will be given out, it’s also important to understand it’s goal.

The obvious goal in mind with the creation of the vaccine is to stop people from getting the virus. If vaccinated, the chances of someone getting Coronavirus significantly decrease and if they are to still somehow get it, the symptoms have been shown to be much less severe.

Another hope is that if enough people within a population get the vaccine, we could develop what is known as herd immunity.

Herd immunity is when a high enough percentage of the population is immune from a virus due to either vaccination or prior illness, therefore making it difficult for the virus to spread to people who are not immune, such as newborns.

A diagram explains how herd immunity works. [Photo Source: gao.gov]

Other illnesses such as polio and measles are two examples of diseases that the United States has herd immunity from.

With Covid-19, the hope is to get enough of the population vaccinated and have herd immunity as soon as possible.

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, there is a chance that the United States could develop herd immunity as soon as next fall if the vaccines are distributed efficiently.

“If we vaccinate efficiently in April, May, June, July, August, we should have that degree of protection that could get us back to some form of normality. … But we’ve also got to do it on a global scale.”

Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases

President Joe Biden’s new plan is to vaccinate 100 million people in 100 days, and while Fauci and other medical officials think this would be a great start, they are still unsure of the percentage of people that will need to get vaccinated before we have herd immunity.

Hopefully, the vaccine will become more readily available to people soon, but until then keep wearing mask and social distancing and hopefully the world can return to normal as soon as possible.

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