The first COVID-19 vaccines are being administered to frontline healthcare workers across the country. The two different versions of the vaccine manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer provide much needed good news. Here’s everything you need to know about the vaccine to stay informed.
The Forefront of Vaccination
Moderna (short for modified RNA) is a biotech company out of Massachusetts that has built its platform around the development of mRNA, or messenger RNA. For years, Moderna has conducted clinical trials on over 1,000 subjects against five different respiratory viruses using the mRNA technology. Moderna used their varied expertise to begin work on a COVID-19 vaccine in January and began studies as early as this past summer. The vaccine, called mRNA-1273, was 94% effective in clinical trials and can be given to people ages 18 and over in two 100-microgram doses given 28 days apart.
The German biotech company Pfizer has also developed a COVID-19 vaccine named BNT162b2, with a clinical trial efficacy of 95%. Like the Moderna vaccine, it was also created with mRNA technology. However, BNT162b2 can be administered to those over the age of 16 in two 30-microgram doses given 21 days apart.
Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have been given emergency authorization by the FDA. However, emergency authorization is not the same as approval- this process allows the experimental vaccine to be used as long as the FDA deems the positive outcome from the vaccine outweighs the risk. Both vaccines also must be transported and stored in cold conditions: the Pfizer vaccine must use dry ice to create an ultra-cold environment, but the Moderna vaccine can be stored in a temperature similar to a household refrigerator.
MRNA stands for “Messenger RNA”, a technology that contains the recipe for cells to build amino acids that mimic viruses found in the body. The COVID-19 vaccine contains these proteins and once injected, human cells receive mRNA from the vaccine and make proteins which trigger an immune response to create antibodies. Then, if a person gets infected with COVID-19, these antibodies will recognize the protein in the virus, helping the immune system detect and destroy it.
COVID-19 Vaccine Information
The Pfizer vaccine is fairly effective in preventing symptomatic illness, but it is still unclear whether or not it prevents people from carrying COVID-19. The good news is that the vaccine should prevent symptoms serious enough to warrant a trip to the hospital, but those vaccinated could still become asymptomatic carriers of the virus, spreading it without showing signs of illness.
Wearing a mask, proper hygiene, and social distancing are still suggested even as the vaccine becomes more readily distributed. Although the vaccine will halt symptoms, anybody could still carry the virus in their nasal passageway and spread it through coughing, talking, or sneezing. An estimated 70%, or 230 million, Americans must be vaccinated in order for herd immunity — once enough people have been vaccinated for the virus to stop its spread — to take place. The timeline for this is unknown, since both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines take time to manufacture and distribute and also require two doses to be effective.
Final Things to Note
After frontline healthcare workers have received the vaccine, the vaccination timeline for the general public will vary by state. Both the Pfizer and Modern vaccines are delivered through a shot in the arm and can create common vaccine symptoms such as headaches, body aches, and chills. The FDA has stated that in clinical trials “the frequency of non-fatal serious adverse events was low and without meaningful imbalances" between the vaccinated group and the group that received the placebo. Remember to mask up and stay safe.