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Covid Vaccine Explained – Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Novavax 

By  Dr. Mike Hansen

Covid Vaccine Explained – We’re talking about the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines here. Then other vaccines are on the horizon as well that are not mRNA vaccines. 6 vaccines are getting federal government support in the US, and dozens in being developed worldwide. Several are in Phase 3 clinical trials, the last step before seeking the FDA’s go-ahead. The 2 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna synthetically make messenger RNA, a genetic blueprint that signals to the body’s cells to start manufacturing a specific protein in the body. Not just any protein, but part of the spike protein of the virus.

The body’s immune system then says, “Hey, we don’t recognize this spike protein guy; we should kick him out of the club. “So the immune system reacts accordingly. Except when the immune system responds accordingly, it’s a cascade of events, with white blood cells causing a whole bunch of commotion, sending chemical signals to other parts of the body through the blood, with cytokines, interferons interleukins.

And antibodies are made, proteins that bind to pieces of foreign invaders so that the body is protected the next to go around. This process sometimes causes symptoms to develop, like some arm pain, maybe a slight fever, body aches, headache, sometimes nausea, fatigue. And this is what sometimes happens with the flu shot. People sometimes think they got the flu from the flu shot, but that’s never the case.

Covid Vaccine Explained

It was the immunological reaction to the vaccination. But back to these mRNA vaccines for COVID. They come in 2 doses, to be taken a few weeks apart. Why? Because the 1st dose, also known as the prime dose, although it does the job, is less than ideal, meaning the level of protective antibodies that develop, they’re there (show hand), but we want them up here (raise hand) to offer better protection.

So with the prime dose, the antibodies take 2 weeks to develop. But then we want the second dose, the booster, to get the immune system reactivated. Once that re-activation occurs, immunogenicity is achieved, typically 7-10 days after the booster is given. And when people experience the immune reactions from the mRNA COVID vaccines, it’s not with the 1st dose; it’s after the booster.

The independent board that analyzes the participants in the study found that severe side effects included fatigue in (9.7%), muscle pain (8.9%), joint pain (5.2%), and headache (4.5%). Less than 2% had fevers of 39°C to 40°C that lasted a day or two. The numbers were lower for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine: Severe side effects included fatigue (3.8%) and headache (2%). Now compared to the flu shot, including the high-dose flu shot, these numbers are slightly higher. But otherwise, the trials showed that these vaccines are safe. And they’re very, very effective.

In Moderna’s clinical trial, they gave either the vaccine or a placebo to 30,000 people. Of the 15,000 who received the vaccine, 11 developed Covid. Of the 15,000 who received the placebo, 185 developed Covid. That’s 94.1% efficacy. None of the 11 people who received the vaccine became severely ill, but 30 of the 185 who received the placebo became sick severely, and one died.

The vaccine had similar efficacy rates for older adults and people in racial minority groups. In Pfizer’s clinical trial, the vaccine proved to be 95% effective, and one study participant who received the vaccine developed a severe case of Covid. Both of them give 95% efficacy against symptomatic disease and almost 100% against severe disease.

Doctor Mike Hansen, MD
Internal Medicine | Pulmonary Disease | Critical Care Medicine

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