Should I get the Covid-19 mRNA vaccine?
As we celebrate the end of a mostly dreadful year, and the first few million people receive vaccinations against the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), some of us are left with several important questions. Here’s one: What is an mRNA vaccine, and if it’s so great, why haven’t I heard of it before? Or, also important, what are the side effects associated with said vaccine? If, like me, you’ve scoured the web looking for answers to these questions, you might have found that the most comprehensive explanations are buried in scholarly articles and laden with scientific jargon. Or maybe you didn’t quite find the information you were looking for. Whatever the case, I’ve written this article in the hopes that it helps simplify the picture on the covid-19 mRNA vaccines. I hope you find it informative.
What is an mRNA vaccine?
Messenger Ribonucleic acid (mRNA) is the stuff your cells need in order to produce proteins. They are not to be confused with DNA, which is the fabric of your existence. DNA is converted into RNA in humans, but the reverse only occurs in viruses or in the presence of reverse transcriptase, an enzyme necessary for this process, which we don’t have (so you don’t need to worry about the vaccine becoming part of your DNA). An mRNA vaccine contains the mRNA of the virus (in this case, only the shell of the SARS-CoV-2 virus), which causes your immune system to build antibodies which protect you in the event of future exposure to the actual virus. This mRNA is then packaged in nanoparticles which allows it to cross the barriers of your cells and trigger the production of antibodies. There are no animal products and no preservatives in any of the two popular mRNA vaccines, which rules out a lot of allergic reactions (although not all!)
Why haven’t I heard about them before?
Likely because the technology for mRNA delivery hasn’t been around for very long. mRNA on its own is very unstable. And if you were to inject yourself with a vial of raw mRNA, you’d likely wind up with a significant immune response as your body assumes it’s been invaded by a foreign substance and works to get rid of it. Two main advances in technology which have made mRNA vaccines possible are the ability to modify the mRNA so that you don’t have an overwhelming immune response, and the ability to insert this modified mRNA into a nanoparticle that can be taken up by cells. mRNA vaccines didn’t just appear. Like most advances in human development, they’ve benefited from little increments in our understanding, over time. Successful insertion of mRNA into animals, for instance, has been around since 1990. The leap here has been due to pressure to curb the spread of covid-19, and money. Various countries threw a lot of money into the development of these vaccines, which meant researchers didn’t need to wait for approvals before beginning the next phase of development. Once they came up with a working version of the vaccine, they quickly applied for permits to begin testing. Thanks to emergency measures, they were able to get these permits much faster than they would’ve in the past, and move on quickly to the next phase of development.
What are the side-effects?
Here are some of the most common side effects:
Pain at the place of injection; this is expected. Stick a needle in a person and they’ll report pain, but there’s more pain at the site reported by people in the vaccine group than placebo group. Although less than 1% of people receiving the vaccine complained of severe pain.
Redness or swelling at the site of injection, fatigue and headaches after the vaccine were also commonly reported.
Some people experienced fever and chills, and there is a chance, albeit low, that you could experience an allergic reaction to the vaccine. Also, while rare, some have had nausea and vomiting after taking the vaccine.
It’s worth noting that all these side effects resolved within 2 to 3 days of receiving the vaccine. And, interestingly, there are more side effects reported in younger than in older people.
Alright, cut to the chase already, should I take the vaccine or not?
That’s entirely up to you. If you’re a healthy person unwary of infections because you trust your immune system to deal effectively with anything thrown its way, consider that by getting the vaccine you’re not just bolstering your immune system, you’re giving your aging dad, pregnant spouse, or the person next to you at the grocery store a boost too, through herd immunity. Which is what certain health experts hope will result from a large percentage of the general public agreeing to get vaccinated. This takes care of the first gap in our knowledge base since studies on the vaccine did not include pregnant, breastfeeding and immunocompromised people, or individuals under 16 years of age. And, as such, we can only speculate on how a compromised immune system might react to receiving the vaccine or what possible effects it could have on a developing fetus.
The second is that no one knows how long protection from the vaccine will last. Or what possible side effects might manifest over a longer period of time (likely none, but the answer while unknown as of yet, is being closely monitored by vaccine manufacturers and health professionals). We do know, however, that the study protocol includes observation for up to 24 months of people who’ve received the vaccine, and it’s been over 2 months now without any emerging significant adverse effects.
Did that help answer some of your questions? If you’re still on the fence, or you’ve got other questions regarding the vaccine, write to me and we’ll try finding the answers together.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own, the information included was gathered from widely accessible scientific sources which are available on request.