What the U.S. needs to know about the COVID-19 vaccine

By Nia Anthony 

Elm Staff Writer 

Over the past year, United States citizens have faced the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in multiple ways — but the end might be in sight a the roll-out of the vaccine begins.

From experiencing symptoms, such as loss of smell, taste, or trouble breathing, to the 500,000 American deaths according to The New York Times as of Feb. 17, 2021, coupled with the lack of human interaction, many Americans are waiting for the day life returns to normal. The COVID-19 vaccine is the beginning of the end to the pandemic. 

As of Feb. 8, the major producers and distributors of the COVID-19 vaccine are Moderna and partners Pfizer and BioNTech, along with other companies, including Johnson & Johnson, waiting for FDA approval to follow. 

Under the Biden administration, the combined efforts of Pfizer, BioNTech, and Moderna plan to vaccinate over 300 million Americans this year according to The New York Times, prompting a drastic cut in the number of infections and deaths over time. 

The first wave of general vaccination distribution began in U.S. states like Maryland, New York, and California, with a heavy focus on healthcare and essential workers, including grocery clerks and teachers. According to The Washington Post, hopeful that the influx of vaccines ordered will mean more people will get vaccinated, and therefore build herd immunity. 

The timeline for getting Americans vaccinated will vary by state. Currently, there is no exact timeline for vaccinations for the entire American community set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or by the Biden administration. 

However, in most states, there is a general progression as to who gets the vaccine, starting with the immunocompromised and essential workers, and ending with healthy, younger, and non-essential populations. 

What’s in the vaccine? 

Unlike the flu shot, the COVID-19 vaccine does not include a live virus. The active ingredient is mRNA, which works to create and duplicate protein that ultimately aids in destroying the makeup of the virus, according to the CDC. 

According to the CDC, the “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,” which helps to combat the virus. 

The other ingredients in the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Food and Drug Administration, are either naturally occurring or have been used in a biological lab setting before, so scientists behind the vaccine are no stranger to these ingredients. 

What are the side effects? 

According to the CDC, in the trial runs of the vaccine development, there were mild side effects akin to other vaccines, like the flu vaccine. 

“In clinical trials, reactogenicity symptoms [side effects that happen within 7 days of getting vaccinated] were common but were mostly mild to moderate,” the CDC said. “Side effects [such as fever, chills, tiredness, and headache] throughout the body were more common after the second dose of the vaccine.”

What are the myths surrounding the vaccine? 

Many myths and conspiracies have been circulating around the COVID-19 vaccine. 

One includes how the COVID-19 vaccine will make women infertile, which originated from a theory from a German doctor and epidemiologist Wolfgang Wodarg, according to WebMD. 

However, there was a disconnect in understanding how the mRNA fundamentally works, according to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. 

A COVID-19 fact sheet from John’s Hopkins School of Medicine proves this conspiracy to be false: “The false report said that getting the COVID-19 vaccine would cause a woman’s body to fight this different spike protein and affect her fertility. The two spike proteins are completely different and distinct, and getting the COVID-19 vaccine will not affect the fertility of women who are seeking to become pregnant, including through in vitro fertilization methods.”

Another common myth is that the vaccine was rushed and is not fully developed. This was started by small hometown communities across the United States. 

In reality, the reason the COVID-19 vaccine was created so quickly is simply due to modern medicine developments from working with other vaccines, according to The New York Times Magazine, and are different resources today than there were when working on plague, polio, or even Ebola vaccines. According to the CDC, the polio vaccine was developed in 1961, without current modern technology, while the Ebola vaccine was released more slowly because it didn’t affect the global population. Unlike those viruses, however, scientists targeted mRNA as a solution first, which already proved to work, so the turnaround was much quicker. 

According to the CDC, the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine was in fact “created using messenger RNA [mRNA], which allows a faster approach than the traditional way that vaccines are made.” 

In addition, this is the first time that virus studies have utilized social media to spread awareness, which in turn produced thousands of willing volunteers that were conscious of how fast the virus was spreading and jumped to action according to a CDC infographic. 

To see the end of this pandemic, citizens are advised to be conscious of the conversation around vaccines, as well as do their part in social distancing and mask-wearing.

Featured Photo caption: As further efforts to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine across the U.S. are being made, people are curious as to how the vaccine is produced, what it contains, and what it could possibly do once injected into the human body. Photo Courtesy of Macau Photo Agency.

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