Sowghandhi Umashankar – Guest Writer
Many students are probably concerned about the safety of the COVID vaccine. This vaccine works differently than other vaccines such as the influenza vaccine. Should students get the COVID vaccine or not? The answer depends on how safe the vaccine is.
Currently, the coronavirus vaccine is being given to healthcare workers, teachers, and the elderly. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are approved, and other vaccines, such as ones manufactured by Johnson and Johnson are entering FDA approval trials. There is cause for concern since these trials are shorter and have a new design.
The vaccine works differently from vaccines for the flu or measles. These COVID-19 vaccines only use a part of the virus that builds those little spikes seen on pictures called spike proteins.
So, how does a spike protein get into the cell if a person does not have COVID? A molecule called mRNA, which is used to make the spike protein, is injected into the cells. The RNA causes the cell make copies of the spike protein inside of it without causing infection. The main advantage is that there is no injecting of the virus into the body, and so no chance of any infection, which is especially important with COVID since it is highly infectious. Conventional vaccines mean activating the immune system, by “direct contact” with a virus. This is bad for a highly contagious disease, so we use mRNA instead. The mRNA is injected into cells, which make a harmless (without the virus) protein, that activates the immune system “indirectly. Vaccines containing RNA are new in science.
More caution can be seen with exploring the vaccine development timeline. Research starts in a lab, with studying the virus, then progresses to making the vaccine and testing it on animals. Afterwards, human trials start with three phases: the first for safety on a small group of 20-100 people, the next for symptoms and side effects on a few hundred people, and the last test on thousands of people to check for effectiveness. The time of the human trials depends on the volunteers available and is often why vaccine development can take years. After the vaccine is proven to work, the FDA still must approve it. After the pandemic vaccine trials were sped up (we don’t have years to test this vaccine), there might be unknown side effects or differences in effectiveness between vaccines. Some things like effectiveness can only be properly tested with a large, long-term study that still needs to be completed.
Of course, the elderly and immunocompromised are more susceptible to getting sick, as are healthcare workers that work with them. So, in those cases, protection might be worth the risks of the vaccine. But, for the rest of us students, perhaps caution, or simply waiting a few more months, is a better action plan. We can avoid difficulties due to the newness of the vaccine and see new efficiency rates as they come out.
CDC. “Understanding MRNA COVID-19 Vaccines.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 Dec. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/mrna.html.
CDC. “U.S. COVID-19 Vaccine Product Information.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 Dec. 2020, www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/info-by-product/index.html.
Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, FDA. “Vaccine Development – 101.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, www.fda.gov/vaccines-blood-biologics/development-approval-process-cber/vaccine-development-101.
Photo from Pixabay Free for commercial use No attribution required.
Guerrero, Rafael. “Indian Prairie, Naperville School Districts Working with Edward-Elmhurst to Get Teachers Vaccinated.” Chicagotribune.com, Chicago Tribune, 5 Feb. 2021, www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/naperville-sun/ct-nvs-naperville-indian-prairie-edward-vaccines-st-0207-20210205-dlj3dwbwzjdxxoy4zkiyl2zlda-story.html.