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The vaccine is finally here. It has been given Emergency Use Authorization, and the Pfizer mRNA vaccine has been injected into the arms of Americans. This is great news, and this should be the beginning of the end of this pandemic. The more of us get vaccinated, the fewer people the virus can sicken, and we can finally return to normal life.
How does the vaccine work?
The Pfizer (and Moderna) vaccines are mRNA (called “messenger RNA”) vaccines. The mRNA is the code for our cells to make proteins. So, the vaccine has the mRNA code for the spike protein on the virus. The spike protein is those little “antennas” on the surface of SARS CoV-2.
Our cells make the spike protein, and then the immune system develops a response. The mRNA is then degraded in the cell. The vaccine has no virus in it at all.
What does the vaccine do?
The studies of the vaccine have shown that the vaccine prevents symptomatic Covid infection. It has also been shown to prevent severe Covid infection. The efficacy is 95%, which is excellent with respect to vaccines. In comparison, the influenza vaccine is typically about 50% effective.
Will the vaccine prevent me from catching the virus?
The answer is: we don’t know. That is currently being studied, and the data are not out yet. This is critical to know, actually. We know that the vaccine prevents symptomatic Covid disease, but we don’t know if it prevents people from catching the virus and then spreading it to other people. It would be great if that was also the case, but we just don’t know at this stage.
So, should I still get the vaccine?
Absolutely. Of course, you should not have any contraindications to getting the vaccine (such as allergies to any of its components). Still, even if the vaccine doesn’t prevent infection and spread of the virus, if enough people are vaccinated, they will be protected from getting sick from the virus. That can only be a good thing, and that will be the best way we can finally get out from under the cloud of this pandemic.