What do we know about the COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine?

Updated: Jan 29

A number of vaccines are now out to provide immunity from Coronavirus COVID-19 virus.

The most popular are the Indian 'Covaxin' and 'Covidshield', Russia's 'Gamaleya', American BioNTech (Pfizer) and another from Moderna. Since data on Chinese vaccines is opaque and the great controversy surrounding them they have not been considered.

Considering that a brand new vaccine created for a brand new disease rushed in and out of production, It is but natural that with so much negative press, and 'expert' opinions being broadcast to us all.

India is a vaccine powerhouse with 6 manufacturers producing 60% of all global requirement.

The new vaccines developed are "Messenger RNA" (mRNA) vaccines. Messenger RNA vaccines are new and revolutionary compared to traditional methods of vaccination.

Here are 5 key points to know.

  • What are antibodies and antigens?

  • How do traditional vaccines work?

  • How are mRNA vaccines different?

  • Do the COVID-19 vaccines work?

  • Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe?

What are antibodies and antigens?

There are microbes (more commonly known as "germs") everywhere. In the air we breathe, in the food we eat, on our skin and within our entire body. Microbes are essential for our existence, but some of them are bad guys and they are called pathogens. Pathogens are infectious microbes in the form of viruses, bacteria, parasites, or even fungi that can cause disease.

Each pathogen has its own unique antigen. An antigen is almost like a pathogen's ID card.

Antibodies are like our body's security guards. They check the IDs (antigens) of incoming microbes. Antibodies are proteins that identify and neutralise threats to our body.

When a pathogen enters our body with a never-before-seen antigen, our body doesn't recognise the threat right away. It takes time for our body to develop antibodies capable of identifying the antigen and neutralising the threat. During that time, we get sick.

Once we have antibodies that recognise the antigen of a particular pathogen, we become immune to that pathogen. Unfortunately, some pathogens evolve VERY rapidly, developing new antigens our body doesn't recognise. This can cause us to become repeatedly ill with similar diseases or get repeat vaccinations. Cold and flu viruses are prime examples of this.

How do traditional vaccines work?

Traditional vaccines inject a weakened or inactive part of a pathogen into your body. This way, our body has time to recognise the threat and develop antibodies without us getting sick.

Vaccines work well majority of the time, but there are cases of people reporting mild symptoms after getting a vaccine. These symptoms are typically minor compared to the full-blown disease, however.

This is how the world effectively coped with the dreaded smallpox pandemic.

People were exposed people to cowpox, a virus similar to smallpox, but much weaker and prevented people from getting smallpox. We are now on the verge of completely eliminating polio.

The near-elimination of polio is particularly noteworthy because like COVID-19 there are many asymptomatic cases that make it difficult to trace. Therefore universal vaccination is a very good idea.

How are mRNA vaccines different than traditional vaccines?

The COVID-19 vaccines now developed are unlike traditional vaccines. They are messenger RNA vaccines which do nOT contain a weakened or inactive part of a pathogen. They do not contain any part of the coronavirus or any other virus, for that matter.

How do COVID-19 vaccines work?

Our body's cells contain DNA. This DNA is a software code for how our body works. Like a script or blueprint. This code gets copied into RNA messages. The RNA messages get translated into proteins that do various jobs.

Imagine a construction blueprint for an entire city. The blueprint contains instructions for where to pave streets, where to build City Hall, where to build police and fire departments, commercial districts, residential districts, a sewage system, power lines, etc, etc...

There are foremen who supervise all the different construction projects. These foremen read the blueprint and give directions to the construction workers.

In this comparison, we are the city. The blueprint is our DNA. The supervisors are RNA messengers. The workers are proteins.

As mentioned earlier, that antibodies are proteins...

The job of these particular proteins is, to recognise and neutralise threats to our body. In the city metaphor, they're our body's police officers.

A Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine sends a message to your body's cells to create antibody proteins that recognise a pathogen's antigen. Once those antibodies are created, our body's cells throw those instructions in the trash.

Quite frankly, mRNA vaccines are a remarkable scientific achievement. The speed with which the COVID-19 vaccines were created is particularly impressive.

In order to do this, scientists had to sequence the genome of the COVID-19 virus. Coronavirus is a bit of a weirdo in that it has no DNA. It only has RNA, which is common among viruses. Scientists then studied the RNA and identified which messages do what. Once they identified the RNA message responsible for creating a protein that acts as an antigen, they knew what to put in the vaccine.

The beauty of vaccination by this method is that our own body creates the antigen. Our body follows the instructions of the RNA message to create the antigen itself. It is then able to develop antibodies trained to recognise and neutralize that antigen.

This way, our body can achieve immunity without ever being exposed to the virus at all, not even in vaccine form.