Unpacking the COVID-19 Vaccine

CLAIRE HIPPS
STAFF WRITER

Pfizer and BioNTech produced an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine found to be 95% effective in November. Despite the existence of this vaccine, many Americans are apprehensive about receiving it. According to AP/University of Chicago, 35% of Americans aged 18-29 said that they will not received the COVID-19 vaccine; another 22% said that they weren’t sure.

Despite potential mistrust of the vaccine in the student body, President Jeff Abernathy states that “We expect students, faculty and staff to receive the vaccine before the fall term. As with the flu vaccine, there will be exceptions for individual circumstances. The science is clear that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and that it saves lives”

COVID-19 has a “wide range of infection outcomes, ranging from asymptomatic to fatal,” said Timothy Keeton, an associate professor of biology here at Alma College focused on microbiology.

While the CDC outlines certain COVID-19 risk factors, like age or preexisting conditions, there are rare deaths amongst college students. The chronic effects following an infection are also unknown.

“I suspect we will discover that the virus causes more serious illness in individuals who unknowingly carry a certain version of a [presently unidentified] gene,” said Keeton. “Many fatalities are associated with an apparently hyper-active immune reaction, which ultimately causes most of the damage which kills the patient.”

The COVID-19 vaccine uses mRNA technology to combat the virus, which “utilizes modern genetic cloning technology to manufacture the genetic sequence of the desired target,” says Keeton. give your immune system directions on how to defend against the infection without introducing the virus itself, said Keeton. “None of the COVID-19 vaccines developed for human use involves live virus.”

That being said, mRNA vaccines cannot alter your DNA. “mRNA molecules do not survive long inside or outside your cells, [nor do they] gain access to your genetic ‘vault’ in the nucleus of your cells,” said Keeton.

As with many vaccines, there are some mild side effects that may occur when the vaccine is administered. “A common side effect to date with the mRNA vaccine is soreness at the injection site and sometimes general aches and pains, [as well as a] mild fever for 24 hours or so, especially following the booster injection,” said Keeton. “If you have known severe allergies, notify the clinic where you plan on getting your vaccine beforehand. They may have special instructions.”

Side effects are normal. “Know that [side effects] happen to many people and monitor your temperature for high fever. In most people this only lasts about 24 hours,” said Keeton.

Receiving the vaccine is integral for protection against the unknown effects of the virus. There is not enough evidence to determine whether or not exposure to the virus provides adequate immunity, as initial immune responses are oftentimes weak.

“We know that humans who have been infected usually are producing antibodies, but we do not know if those antibodies are protective,” said Keeton. “There is evidence which indicates

some people who have been infected may in fact be immune to a second debilitating infection but can still carry replicating virus in the respiratory system [and can thus transmit the virus to others].”

It is imperative that students take the vaccine within the guidelines outlined by the CDC. “You DO in fact need both doses,” said Keeton. “Some of our best vaccines provide long term or even lifelong immunity, but many do require periodic boosters. Be prepared to [receive boosters after the initial vaccine and] down the road.”

Although many compare COVID-19 to influenza, they are not the same infection. “Your flu shot from the fall will do NOTHING to help you against COVID-19,” said Keeton.

Despite the idea of herd immunity, “only those who are truly immune through vaccination or prior infection are truly protected,” said Keeton. “There will always be a small percentage of individuals who, due to pre-existing health conditions, cannot be vaccinated safely.”

The vaccine will likely be available to Alma College students in the summertime, according to Abernathy, although that estimate is subject to change.

COVID-19 has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. Serendipitously, each of us have the opportunity to prioritize our health and the health of others by receiving the vaccine in the recommended way.

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