vaccine explanation

COVID-19 virus illustration

A physician at the University of Saskatchewan has Tweeted this simple COVID-19 vaccine explanation.

The mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) are kind of brilliant at a science level. I’ve had a few people in my real non-Twitter life ask me to explain how it works so I’m going to try my best here in this thread while I’m waiting for a patient to show. [Continue reading for a great vaccine explanation.]

  1. The first thing to know is how your immune system works. Basically, your immune cells attack anything foreign to your body. If it sees a protein or a virus or a bacteria or anything that it doesn’t recognize, it launches an attack.
  2. If it’s fighting off a virus, for example, it takes time to build up a full attack. It’s got to figure out what part of the virus to attack & ramp up production of what it needs to attack those parts. Meanwhile the virus is replicating and expanding.
  3. Once it fights off the virus, though, it remembers it. You’ve got memory cells in your immune system and if you run into that virus again, your memory cells say “I’ve seen this *** before.” Your body uses its past experience to demolish the virus before it can make you sick.

So, with that in mind, we return to the vaccine explanation.

Scientists looked at the COVID virus and saw a protein on the outside of the virus that looked like a good candidate to launch an immune attack against [represented by the red spikes in the illustration]. That protein, by the way, is an important one for the virus. It uses that protein to get into your cells. That protein makes the virus more infectious. In short, that protein makes the virus more of an ***.

Now COVID has DNA in it that codes for all of its parts. So scientists looked at the entire DNA sequence of virus and found the sequence of DNA that is the blueprint for that protein. The *** protein. Side note: DNA is the blueprint to make things in a cell. Cells take the DNA and transcribe it into RNA. The RNA is the instructions that tell the cell what to make mRNA (literally, messenger-RNA) literally just gives instructions to the cell to make something.

So scientists took the blueprint for the *** protein on COVID and made an mRNA version of it. Literally, just the instructions on how to make that protein.

These instructions “are” the vaccine.

Let me explain.

  1. The vaccine contains no actual part of the virus. It has only the instructions on how to make the *** protein. So, you can’t get infected with COVID from the vaccine. You just get these instructions.
  2.  Your cells see these instructions and say “sure, I’ll make this.” So your cells make a bunch of the *** protein.
  3. Your immune system sees this new protein you’re producing and immediately says “what…the…*** … is this?” And it starts attacking the protein.
  4. Remember it hasn’t seen this protein before. It takes a while to ramp up production. Thn it launches an all out war against the *** protein. The fevers, chills, muscle soreness, etc., you might get as vaccine side effects is your body bombing the *** out of the *** protein.
  5. So you destroy the *** protein (which in and of itself can’t infect you, it’s just a protein, not the virus).

Now here’s the important part of the vaccine explanation.

  • Your memory cells ‘remember’ the *** protein. They remember exactly how to destroy it.
    By the way, your body breaks down the mRNA instructions that you got with the vaccine pretty quickly too. That’s normal. You don’t need a bunch of instructions hanging around forever. Your body breaks those down and gets rid of them.
  • So you’ve broken down the mRNA instructions. You’ve destroyed *** proteins. Everything from the vaccine is gone. Except for those memory cells who remember that protein very well.
  • So then, a COVID virus enters your body. Your body has never seen the virus before. BUT it’s seen that protein that’s on the outside of the virus. Your memory cells say “you’ve got to be kidding me THIS *** again? Get the *** out of here!”
  • Your body’s own ‘natural immune system’ quickly and efficiently launches an all out war, using the template it has from when it destroyed the *** protein last time. It destroys the virus before it can take hold, replicate, and make you sick.

Congratulations! Now, you’re immune to COVID! You’ve got the blueprints to defeat it as soon as it enters your body.

What if the virus mutates so it doesn’t produce the *** protein any more?

Well, since it uses the *** protein to get into your cells, if it mutates away from it, it’ll probably also be less infectious.

That’s what makes the vaccine low-key brilliant.

For a more technical vaccine explanation, see COVID-19 vaccination | Original Tweets

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