COVID Vaccine: Safe or Suspect?
With two shots released, COVID-19 mRNA vaccinations are a hot topic. While some line up for the shot, others hold back. If you’re not sure what to expect or heard rumors about strange technology, this is your guide to understanding–
What the RNA vaccine is, and
Whether it’s safe.
What is an “RNA vaccine”?
Terminology like “RNA” and “amino acid” might sound frightening if you aren’t a biologist, but I can assure you, these terms refer to perfectly safe, natural body processes.
Strange terms like, “mRNA” aren’t secretly conspiratorial. They refer to natural things about our bodies. It just takes a bit of research to learn what they mean.
To know how the Covid vaccine works, we must know (1) what a virus does, and (2) what a normal vaccine is.
Here is a short example of how mRNA works in our body:
Do you have nails? Your nails are made of keratin. Keratin is a protein your cells produce that forms fingernails, among other things. Cell nuclei contain DNA, which instructs mRNA to instruct cell ribosomes to create the protein keratin (Microbiology, p.8622). Thus, fingernails are created!
Now, imagine a virus entered a fingernail cell.
The virus would disrupt the cell’s natural DNA and mRNA functions and commands the fingernail cell to create virus particles instead of fingernail cells. Viral cells then infect other cells and destroy their natural processes (Krug, “The Cycle of Infection”).
Many vaccines inject your body with an attenuated version of the virus. Your immune system recognizes a foreigner and defeats it, creating antibodies to attack the real virus with. Vaccines are a way to safely introduce our body to something harmful, giving us a chance to naturally defend ourselves.
About the Covid RNA vaccine. What’s different?
Developed by Katalin Karikó, RNA technology was first successful in the 1990s, followed by years of mRNA vaccine study (Moody, Melissa, “Biology Peers Receive Covid Vaccine”).
Over 74,000 people received a COVID mRNA vaccine during 2020 clinical trials (Garde, Damian, “The Story of mRNA”).
RNA equals the “instructions” to make a Covid virus protein. So instead of receiving a dead viral strain, your body gets RNA instructions to create part of the COVID virus, just like it would create keratin in the above example.
Read: with mRNA vaccines, our body is creating an inactive COVID piece instead of receiving an inactive Covid strain.
What’s going to happen is the package of RNA will reach a cell and enter the ribosomes. It’ll give instructions to create a COVID spike protein–a component of the real virus, but inactive by itself (Garde, “mRNA”).
(Inactive = it won’t hijack your cells into infecting their neighbors, as we saw in the viral cycle).
Then, your immune system will recognize a foreign spike protein and immediately neutralize it, just like it would for a regular virus. Your immune system forms antibodies to deal with the COVID virus, so that when you encounter the real COVID virus, your body will recognize the spike protein and know how to defeat the virus so you won’t get sick.
Ever heard of the Trojan horse? Imagine: instead of wailing dire proclamations, Cassandra builds a Trojan horse so she could warn the townspeople how the Greek invaders would attack. When the wooden horse comes, Trojans would know exactly what it means and keep it out.
In the same way, your body assembling this spike protein is a warning to your immune system to keep out the real COVID virus.
To begin with, I want to assure you that you’re not a lab rat. The vaccine isn’t experimental in a dangerous sense. There are clinical trials and millions of people who’ve received the shot.
However, possibly due to the “instructions manual” method for creating Covid within your body, it causes slightly stronger reactions than a traditional shot.
Maybe you heard this statistic:
According to data from VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System), there have been “126 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered in the United States [and] 2,509 reports of death among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine” (CDC, “Adverse Reactions”).
Feeling worried? Keep two things in mind.
VAERS cannot prove adverse reactions were casued by the vaccine. “Reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or In large part, reports to VAERS are voluntary, which means they are subject to biases” (VAERS, “Data”). Read: we don’t know what caused these deaths.
Observe at the numbers.
If 2,000 deaths happened after 126 million shots, 2,000 divided by 126,000,000 is 00001587301 or .001%.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, 126,000,000 COVID infections would result in approximately 2.2 million deaths; that is a 1.8% risk of death (JHU, “Mortality Rates).
Compare 1.8% to 0.001%.
Notice three extra zeroes?
Bottom line: even if the vaccine causes reactions, Covid is worse.
The virus is worse than the vaccine. Plus, if you get the vaccine, you most likely won’t “infect” loved ones with reactions, right? But if you get the virus, you not only have a higher chance of death, but a definite chance of passing it to others.
It’s perfectly natural to have doubts, fears, and reservations–after all, COVID is novel, and so is this vaccine. However, the scientific data shows that the vaccines are both very effective and very safe, and compared to COVID, you have nothing to fear.
Let’s Cancel Covid!
*Reviewed by Neal Doran, paleobiologist. P.h.D Florida State University.
Garde, Damian, et al Saltzmann, Jonathan. “The story of mRNA: How a once-dismissed idea became a leading technology in the Covid vaccine race.” Stat News, 10 November 2020. https://www.statnews.com/2020/11/10/the-story-of-mrna-how-a-once-dismissed-idea-became-a-leading-technology-in-the-covid-vaccine-race/
Krug, Robert. “The Cycle of Infection.” General Editors. Updated 12 November 2020.
“Row 13: Mortality Analyses.” Johns Hopkins University, Coronavirus Resource Center, 2021 https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/mortality
Structure of the Skin: Epidermis. 3 Jan. 2021, https://chem.libretexts.org/@go/page/12016.
“University of Pennsylvania mRNA Biology Pioneers Receive COVID-19 Vaccine Enabled by their Foundational Research.” University of Pennsylvania Medicine, 23 December 2020. https://www.pennmedicine.org/news/news-releases/2020/december/penn-mrna-biology-pioneers-receive-covid19-vaccine-enabled-by-their-foundational-research. Press Release.
United States, Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Selected Adverse Events Reported after Covid-19 Vaccination.” Corona Virus, 30 March 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/adverse-events.html.
United States, Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. “Vaers Data.” n.d., https://vaers.hhs.gov/data.html.
“Virus: invasion of a cell.” Image, Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed 9 April 2021. https://www.britannica.com/science/virus/The-cycle-of-infection#/media/1/630244/147318