Many questions have arisen about the COVID vaccine, so I thought I’d address some of them here for those of you interested. Before I go directly into the vaccine, let me try to briefly explain how the body produces antibodies.
In order for your body to have “immunity”, you must produce antibodies. Antibodies serve to help break down and kill foreign invaders quickly. So, if you have existing antibodies to a certain infection, you often never get sick or get only slightly sick because your body can quickly recognize the invader and produce lots of antibodies to attack. This essentially disarms the infection before your body can get too sick from the invader itself. Antibodies are produced in response to either having already had an infection or having a vaccine that stimulates the same response as the original infection would.
There are many ways a vaccine can stimulate your own antibody production, but the simple version is that vaccines mimic the specific virus or bacteria structure, and encourage your body to make antibodies to the specific invader. Once your body has made antibodies against something, it can more quickly and effectively destroy it if it enters your body again. Antibodies are not the only part of the immune system that helps kill foreign invaders. T cells also take part in the action and assist the antibodies in their duty.
The COVID vaccines that are presently on the market (mRNA vaccines) are causing your body to produce antibodies specifically against the spike protein, as seen above, which is on the surface of all COVID viruses. COVID itself actually is made up of more than 20 different proteins, but the spike protein was chosen for vaccine production due to its location on the surface of the virus. So even if the virus mutates, the spike protein typically remains intact and thus can be recognized by your immune system, no matter how the virus mutates on the inside. It is important to know, however, that you generally produce antibodies to more than one aspect of a virus/bacteria, so even if it does mutate, your body recognizes multiple areas on the surface and can still attack it. For the COVID vaccines that are presently on the market, they are stimulating not only antibody production against the spike protein but also stimulating killer T cell production against that protein so that you have multiple ways of fighting off the infection, should you be exposed to it.
If you get COVID and have had the vaccine, the virus will enter your cells, and the spike protein of the virus will be presented on the surface of your cells. Since you have antibodies that remember that the spike protein is bad, the antibodies will attack those spike proteins before they can cause the cascade of symptoms in your body that would typically cause you to get sick from the infection. The vaccine itself does not stick around in your body for more than a day or two. The mRNA component of the vaccine is new and is what allowed it to be available sooner than most vaccines.
Messenger RNA (or mRNA) can be thought of as signals that exist within our bodies. It enters cells and gives them a message, and then vanishes. So think of mRNA like the mailman: Delivers a message to your house (cell), and then leaves you to do what you want with it (make antibodies). So the actual mRNA does not stick around for long or alter your personal DNA.
I hope this helps you make an informed decision as to whether or not you feel comfortable getting the vaccine.
If you already had COVID, it is still recommended that you get the COVID vaccine, as we don’t actually know how long your own immunity or the immunity from the vaccine lasts. It is advised that you do anything you can to protect yourself, including getting the vaccine, wearing masks, and keeping a distance from other people. However, if you are concerned about possible long-term side effects from the vaccine, it is reasonable to wait and see what longer-term studies show as far as efficacy, safety, and longevity of immunity show. You must take into consideration your own health and your own comfort levels with either the decision to vaccinate or not. Just keep in mind that there are very terrible potential long-term side effects from getting COVID.