Covid Vaccines 101

George J. Ziogas

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Are you thinking about getting a Covid vaccine? There are currently three Covid vaccines being used in the United States. The Covid vaccines are manufactured by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson. Understanding how these vaccines are made and how they are tested can help you decide if getting a Covid vaccine is right for you.

mRNA Technology

The Covid vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna used mRNA technology to make the vaccines. mRNA technology has been studied for over 20 years. The first successful study of mRNA technology, conducted in mice, was published in the journal Nature in 1990.

Research into mRNA technology is working to develop vaccines and treatments for:

· Zika

· Rabies

· Influenza

· Cancer

mRNA is a genetic framework created from modified RNA. Scientists can code or program mRNA to deliver information to the body’s cells to develop immunity. mRNA vaccines do not use the target virus as part of the vaccine, so there is no risk of getting Covid from the mRNA vaccines. Instead, mRNA vaccines tell your cells to create, recognize and build immunity to a protein specific to the Covid virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Covid has a specific protein on its surface known as a spike protein. Covid mRNA vaccines teach your cells to recognize this protein and create antibodies so that if you are exposed to the virus, you already have immunity.

Viral Vector Technology

The Johnson and Johnson Covid vaccine uses viral vector technology. In viral vector technology, an inactivated, harmless virus is used to transport information to your body’s cells and create immunity to a harmful virus. The inactivated virus is a transport platform, known as a vector, for information about another virus.

Johnson and Johnson previously created a proprietary viral vector called AdVac. They first used this viral vector platform to make a vaccine used in Europe for the Ebola virus. Researchers programmed this viral vector platform with information about the Covid virus spike protein, so your cells recognize and build immunity against the Covid virus. Like mRNA vaccines, viral vector vaccines do not use the target virus to make the vaccine.

Testing and Authorization

Before any of the Covid vaccines were allowed to be used for the general United States population, they underwent large-scale clinical trials to determine their safety and effectiveness.

Clinical trials use two groups of volunteers. One group gets the vaccine and another, known as the placebo group, does not. Researchers then compare the data from both groups to determine if the vaccine group had any adverse reactions to the vaccine and if they developed immunity against the disease.

Data from the Covid vaccine clinical trials showed that:

· Pfizer – Over 40,000 volunteers, over 94% effective, no serious safety concerns reported

· Moderna – Over 30,000 volunteers, over 94% effective, no serious safety concerns

· Johnson and Johnson- 40,000 volunteers, 85% effective, no serious adverse events reported connected to the vaccine

Clinical trial data also helped to determine that the mRNA Covid vaccines required two doses for maximum effectiveness. The Johnson and Johnson viral vector vaccine requires one dose.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors vaccines during clinical trials and reviews all the data collected. All three Covid vaccines received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA, allowing their use for the general public.

Emergency Use Authorization is granted when clinical trials of a vaccine show safety and effectiveness, and there is an overwhelming need to produce a vaccine. Because the World Health Organization declared Covid a worldwide pandemic, the need for a vaccine was urgent enough to grant Emergency Use Authorization for these vaccines.

CDC Monitoring

Once a vaccine is being used for the general public, the CDC is responsible for monitor its safety and effectiveness. As more people receive the vaccines, data becomes available for their use in different populations. The CDC continues to find the Covid vaccines safe and effective now that over 179 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

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