By: Sheila Kun RN, BSN, MS, CPN, FCCP
All of us who experienced this global pandemic since January 2020, we welcome the light at the end of the tunnel – a vaccine that works to boost up our immune system to fight the COVID-19 virus. This is a remarkable scientific achievement. How does mRNA vaccine work? Even for those of us who work in the health field, this is a brand-new endeavor for us. I therefore search through some postings at the internet and found the following description easy to understand. I also want to share my personal experience with getting this vaccine.
mRNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine to protect against infectious diseases. To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. Not mRNA vaccines. Instead, they teach our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.
COVID-19 mRNA vaccines give instructions for our cells to make a harmless piece of what is called the “spike protein.” The spike protein is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19.
COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are given in the upper arm muscle. Once the instructions (mRNA) are inside the immune cells, the cells use them to make the protein piece. After the protein piece is made, the cell breaks down the instructions and gets rid of them.
Next, the cell displays the protein piece on its surface. Our immune systems recognize that the protein doesn’t belong there and begin building an immune response and making antibodies, like what happens in natural infection against COVID-19.
At the end of the process, our bodies have learned how to protect against future infection. The benefit of mRNA vaccines, like all vaccines, is those vaccinated gain this protection without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19.
Being considered a frontline worker, I was lucky enough to get the first injection at the end of December 2020 and completed my second shot the 2nd week of January 2021. My immune system, is theoretically now, armed with ammunitions to fight the virus. The idea is, if I contracted the virus now, my immune system will eliminate its invasion. No one really knows how much of a response that would be, the scientists are still collecting data. Judging from our past with the flu vaccine, if we can extrapolate that experience, I might have no symptom or a milder condition.
The concern for side effects is real. Based on our limited experience in the workplace and at home, here is what I have experienced. Many younger workers (in their 40’s and fifties) seem to have side effects of headache, fever, chill, diarrhea in varying degrees. Some had to call in sick as they might last for 1-2 days. The more serious allergic effects seemed to be rare and limited to those who had bad allergies in the past. If your doctor has instructed you to carry an epi pen as part of your past medical history, you need to be assessed more closely by your physician. Most of these serious reactions happened within the first 15 minutes. That is the reason why you will be told to sit down and be observed immediately after the injection. Older folks seemed to have less reaction to the vaccination. We don’t have a good explanation this time. In my case, I did not feel the soreness of my injection site until 10 hours later. The injection site was sore overnight and that was it.
I hope my limited experience gives you some comfort in knowing that getting the COIVD-19 is not a bad deal.
Note: At this time in the United States, both Pfizer and Moderna produce mRNA vaccines.
Your homework from the Care Ministry this week: If you are eligible for the vaccine, go sign up now.
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