What Are The Side Effects Of The Covid-19 Vaccine?

On December 11, 2020, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced emergency authorization for the use of the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine. Days later, on December 18, it would do the same for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine. Both of these vaccines make use of a relatively new development in the science of vaccines: mRNA technology. What side effects can you expect from the vaccine?

How do vaccines work?

To understand why a vaccine has side effects at all, it’s important to first discuss how traditional vaccines work.

Traditional vaccines introduce an innocuous form of a virus into the host to promote an immune response: the immune system responds to the inactive virus and has subsequent immune memory against potential live, wild viruses. Each virus is distinguishable according to unique surface proteins— called “spike” proteins— which are used to bind to cells and cause infection. These are what the immune system is able to recognize and respond to by manufacturing the right antibodies to prevent infection.

Both of the Covid-19 vaccines which have received authorization by the FDA, however, work in a different manner than traditional vaccines that incorporate an inactive form of the virus.

How does a Covid-19 vaccine work?

The body uses messenger RNA (mRNA) to communicate instructions for protein synthesis, which has applications in innumerable cellular processes. This protein synthesis can be applied in the creation of the “spike” proteins found on the surface of SARS-Cov-2, the virus responsible for Covid-19. Therefore, an mRNA-based vaccine will instruct the body to create those proteins which identify Covid-19, prompting an immune response before the host is potentially exposed to a live virus.

mRNA technology has been in the works since the 1990s when researchers at the University of Wisconsin were able to demonstrate protein synthesis via synthetic mRNA in mice. Since that time, the technology has been postulated to have applications in treating anything from certain forms of cancer to fallout from heart attack. In fact, BioNtech, which partnered with Pfizer in creating one of the two Covid-19 vaccines now being distributed in the US, began as an immunotherapy drug company. Moderna, the other company with an FDA-approved Covid-19 vaccine, also claims that mRNA technology has applications “spanning several therapeutic areas.”

Both companies were in an advantageous position when SARS-CoV-2 was isolated and digitally sequenced in January 2020. Because their vaccine technology does not require a live virus, they were able to immediately begin the science that would lead to the eventual fabrication of the Covid-19 mRNA which prompts the body’s immune response.

The lack of a live virus is also one of the reasons why approval of a Covid-19 vaccine was able to happen within an unprecedented calendar year. Traditionally, the oversight and manufacturing difficulty inherent to the handling of a live virus is the variable which draws out FDA approval of a vaccine. This is a process which, normally, requires years or even decades to accomplish. In the absence of an actual virus and, instead, the availability of its digital genetic sequence at hand, the Covid-19 vaccine creation and approval process was expedited in a safe, effective, and efficient manner.

While both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use mRNA technology, they are different with respect to their chemical structures, their fabrication process, and mechanism of cellular delivery. For this reason, their efficacy as well as side effect profiles might differ.

What are the Covid-19 vaccine side effects?

A Covid-19 vaccine is designed to stimulate the immune system and promote an immune response. Part of that process involves inflammation and fever, processes which your immune system employs to fight infection. For example, fever is a reaction the body has to infection to stimulate the immune response; therefore, an elevated, febrile temperature is a positive sign that the immune system is working as it should. This is all to say that both the Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines will likely trigger some swelling and fever, and this is a good sign as it indicates that the vaccine is working.

Other vaccine side effects can include chills, headache, fatigue, or body aches. Again, these are all positive indications that the vaccine is working properly and are not themselves cause for concern.

For how long will immunity from a Covid-19 vaccine last?

This is an interesting question and one for which there is currently no definitive answer. However, there is some research which suggests that immunity could last for months or possibly years.

Some of the ongoing research investigating this very question has determined that for months after a Covid-19 infection, the body is able to maintain elevated levels of antibodies that confer immunity from a subsequent Covid-19 infection.

There is some concern within the medical community that the virus responsible for Covid-19 might be able to mutate in such a way which renders their vaccines ineffective in the long-term. A virus like influenza, for example, is subject to an ongoing process called antigenic drift: mutations of the virus’ genome. This is why one needs an annual update on their flu vaccine.

There were early reports of certain patients testing positive for Covid-19 multiple times across a timespan of multiple months, indicating that their immune memory from their initial infection was short-lived. However, it has since been postulated that this resulted from inconsistencies in how those patients were tested for Covid-19.

Ultimately, the jury is still out on for how long immunity will last after a Covid-19 vaccine. It could be short lived, or it could not. To draw a comparison with the measles virus and its vaccine, traces of immune memory found in “B cells” have been found in patients 90 years after the Spanish Flu pandemic. That vaccine effectively renders the recipient immune from measles for a lifetime. It has yet to be determined what the timeframe of immunity will be for Covid-19 vaccines. However, as previously mentioned, preliminary research related to the lifespan of Covid-19 immune memory shows promising results.

When will Covid-19 vaccines be made available?

While vaccine distribution began immediately following the emergency use authorizations of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, it will take some time for the vaccine to reach everyone. The CDC has issued recommendations for how to prioritize that distribution: they recommend that health care personnel and members of long-term care facilities receive the vaccines first. From there, states will make their own calculations as to how and to whom the vaccine will be distributed.

Integral to the creation and distribution of the vaccine has been Operation Warp Speed. OWS is a federal project which has helped facilitate the research, manufacturing and distribution of several potential vaccines. It has underwritten the upfront financial risk inherent to the creation of novel vaccines, and has utilized the US military to lubricate the supply chain and distribution of the vaccine.

Here is current information on the number of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines being distributed at a local level. Vaccines are shipped every Tuesday on a rolling basis.

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In-Home Covid-19 Tests With Drip Hydration

Until the Covid-19 vaccine becomes widely available to the general public, the virus will unfortunately continue to spread. Getting tested is the best way to help curb the spread of Covid-19.

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