Does Which One You Get Really Matter?
The COVID-19 pandemic has literally dominated our news—on television, radio, print, and the Internet. Also in the media mix are several vaccine names that have been thrown around on many of these reports. The world is lining up to get immunized, so you’ll take whatever one is available, right?
We have all gotten a virology course of sorts in the last year. What this article intends to do is explain how the vaccines are different but then explain why it doesn’t matter which one you get. For those who want to delve even deeper, there are sections labeled, “THE FINE PRINT.” These are sections that are the more detailed, scientific explanations that you can skip if you want. As such, this article is written on two different levels—the “need to know” material and material for those who want to dig a deeper.
THE DIFFERENT VACCINES: THERE REALLY IS A DIFFERENCE
To understand the COVID-19 vaccines, you must first understand the coronavirus and the disease it causes. What exactly is the SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 coronavirus? Is it new? The historical answer is yes.
THE FINE PRINT: SARS stands for Severe Adult Respiratory Syndrome, a viral pneumonia first identified in 2003. Since then, two other ones have emerged, MERS-CoV (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS-CoV-2 (causing our present COVID-19 pandemic). This newest one has been designated as “-2” to distinguish it from the one that emerged in 2003; it’s this new one that causes COVID-19.
SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the coronavirus; COVID-19 is the name of the disease that the coronavirus causes.
The trick to making a vaccine is to inject a substance that is similar enough to the virus to cause your immune system to attack that substance—and stay ready and primed to attack the virus if it gets into your body. Getting the infection does the exact same thing, but it also makes you sick. A vaccine wants to provoke the same immune attack on the virus but not actually give you the infection. There are several ways to do this, and the current group of vaccines being given work different ways to accomplish this. Thus, there is a difference—but does it matter?
The vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus currently in use are
- Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use genetics to fight the virus, so they are called the Nucleic Acid Vaccines.
Nucleic acid vaccines use the genetic instructions that the coronavirus has to make its proteins, but they’re inserted, instead, into another virus—a harmless one—that will make the foreign proteins your body will learn to destroy. Once your immune system is ready to attack these proteins, when they arrive on the virus that causes COVID-19, they’re stopped immediately.
THE FINE PRINT: Nucleic acids make up all of the instructions for our bodies. Our DNA is made up of nucleic acids (the “NA” of DNA). These “instruction sets” are the blueprint for all of the chemistry inside of us that results in the construction of proteins, hormones, and everything else our bodies use to live. All living things—even viruses—have their own instruction sets in their nucleic acid “blueprints.” (RNA uses a sugar, ribose; DNA uses a sugar, deoxyribose—the difference being only one molecule. RNA acts as a messenger to carry instruction sets back and forth from DNA.)
The coronavirus is an RNA virus, with instruction sets that are fine for the virus itself but can cause our human bodies harm in two ways:
- the first way is by provoking our immune system to attack the virus—that’s good; but causing it to overreact against our own tissues, resulting in damage—that’s bad; and
- the second way the virus harms us is by sending out “alien” instructions that tell our bodies to do things that can hurt us, like lessen our response to the virus itself—good for the virus but bad for us!
- Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a Viral Vector Vaccine.
Viral vector vaccines mimic the production of proteins similar to the ones the coronavirus makes and which provokes your immune system to launch an attack on them—but that readiness stays on board for when the coronavirus gets in.
THE FINE PRINT: The actual genetic instructions the virus uses for making its own proteins are placed into a harmless virus that doesn’t cause disease, but which then can make the same coronavirus proteins as the COVID-19 virus. Thus, an immune response to them—and any virus that makes them—is launched.
WHY THERE REALLY IS NO DIFFERENCE
The world is in serious trouble. Pandemics, by their very nature, expand their zones of infected populations into wider and wider areas until these zones merge. As a countermeasure, vaccines are given to teach the body’s immune system to recognize the virus that causes COVID-19, attack it, and stop it before infection takes hold.
THE FINE PRINT: When enough persons become immune by either vaccination or surviving the infection, then there emerge wide holes of disease-free individuals in the population, breaking up the continuity of the transmission. The concept of geographically widespread disease, necessary for a pandemic, begins to be sabotaged by areas of immunity that are too large for the virus to jaunt across. This is called “herd immunity,” and a herd immunity “threshold” is reached beyond which the contagiousness of the pandemic begins to lessen. Unfortunately, this can backfire when we all get a false sense of security and start mingling again in “super-spreader events,” along with discarding masks, abandoning social distancing, etc., causing the percentage of immune people to fall below a certain threshold, and the pandemic surges into second, and third waves. Therefore, the only successful herd immunity is the one that comes when the disease is gone.
Although the vaccines are different, it is the emergency that makes them the same—making their differences unimportant on a global way of thinking. No matter how they work, they work. Some have different protection percentages, some protect better from severe disease, some require two injections to finish the job. Whatever—they work. And the more people who get vaccinated, the more work is done for this global emergency.
We must get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we can to make sure the expanding zones of immunity are merging faster than are the infected zones.
On a personal level, while we each ward off the virus differently due to the differences in the vaccines we receive, it is the nature of the pandemic as our global emergency that lumps all of the vaccines together in an urgency for global immunization; that is why which one you get doesn’t matter. Grab one and get it in you. What goes on inside you is just a battle, but what we’re all fighting together is a world war.
This is a complex subject not easily contained in one article, and the “fine print” can get finer and finer as you explore it, should you want to. The more you learn, however, the more you will want to know. If you have any concerns or worries, we invite you to personally engage with our team of doctors online.
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This Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.