Summary of COVID-19 and the mRNA vaccine

The mRNA vaccines have been rigorously tested and are safe and effective.

Football game. One team has players with big SARS-CoV-2 heads. Other team is small and isn’t playing well against COVID-19 because they are like an untrained immune system.
Fig: COVID-19 plays football against an untrained team

Brief summary on DNA & RNA: DNA tells cells how to do everything. DNA is transposed into RNA (like when you take notes on your textbook, you’re transposing info). mRNA is Messenger RNA. Think of it as brief instructions for how to make a protein (like an IKEA manual but much clearer to the cell). So mRNA is like hey, make this protein, which some cells do, and then your immune system learns to recognize it. Your immune system learns “I hate this protein” and then mRNA vaccine trains your body to recognize that protein.

For COVID-19 the mRNA is used to train your immune system to recognize the spike protein. The immune system learns that spike protein is bad. When the immune system sees spike protein, it starts fighting. It’s better than untrained immune system because it knows what’s up and it’s practiced in this type of thing.

An analogy:
What if we sent a JV High School football team (represents untrained immune sytem) to play the OU Sooners’ football team (represents COVID-19*)? We all know OU is winning. What if instead we send the New England Patriots vs OU? If the Patriots don’t win, that’s embarrassing & OU’s players are underpaid**. (The decades of training that the Patriots players have represents being trained by having a vaccine). A Patriot could possibly trip or roll an ankle, but they’re MUCH better prepared than the JV team and are going to have a much better day***. In the same way your immune system is going to be much better prepared if you give it a vaccine to prevent COVID-19.

These vaccines are some of the most effective vaccines we have across diseases. 95% efficacy is amazing. Like I want to jump up and down that’s such a great efficacy. There will be breakthrough cases, but the more of us that are vaccinated, the fewer these breakthrough cases will be, and the less it will spread to others.

Herd immunity is threshold where, if COVID-19 is introduced into the community, it will die out. Early on the news talked some about R_0, the reproduction number. This is the average number of people an infected person infects (e.g. Bob has COVID-19 and gives it to 3 people). IF we reach herd immunity( R_0 drops below 1), the whole community is protected.

Some groups depend on herd immunity, such as those not yet able to be vaccinated (e.g. children) and immunocompromised (e.g. cancer patients, grandparents). IF we reach herd immunity, these groups are also protected AND we prevent many breakthrough cases. This isn’t “just a personal decision” because your decision affects how COVID-19 spreads. For example, when measles vaccination rates dip below 95%, we start seeing outbreaks (like the outbreak at Disneyland & other parts of CA in 2014–2015). With COVID-19 and it’s vaccines, we estimate herd immunity is around 70–85% vaccinated.

“But I don’t want to be an experiment”. At this point you’re getting COVID or your getting a vaccine. We have COVID-19 spreading across the US and the delta variant (which is more infectious, but put a pin in that) is on the rise. More Americans have been vaccinated for COVID-19 than have had COVID-19. As of July 19, 161 MILLION Americans have had COVID-19 vaccine. We have SO MUCH data on the vaccines. These vaccines are very effective, very safe.

Because of the nature of vaccines (inject a substance, immune system learns it), side effects occur within months (but usually in the first few days). Clinical trials in humans began March 2020.While side effects can occur, frequency of severe side effects is rare (way less than 1%), where COVID-19 has 1% fatality (which is extremely high for an infectious disease), & unvaccinated survivors often suffer permanent heart, lung, brain, blood vessel damage. Scientists even see evidence of permanent organ damage in those with a mild case of COVID. [Note that “mild” case of COVID-19 is the worst flu symptoms of your life, can’t breathe, weeks if not months to recover]. In a perfect world, our vaccines wouldn’t have any side effects…well, actually, in a perfect world we wouldn’t have diseases to begin with. But COVID-19 is here, and the best way to help yourself and others is to get vaccinated.

“Was the vaccine rushed?”
Medically/scientifically rushed, no. We had many trial participants, trials were double blinded to prevent bias, participants were monitored. I participated in a trial. I was asked frequently about any possible symptoms/exposures. I gave blood and had nasal swabs tons of times. My first visit was in November, and I’m still in the trial, still giving feedback, still giving blood samples. The studies on mRNA based vaccines goes back decades. [first proposed as an option in early 1990s].

Funding rushed, yes. Usually obtaining funding is a HUGE delay to medical trials. At every step you have to reapply for funding and convince funding agency that it’s worth funding the project. [I’m currently working on a grant right now, and I want to claw my eyes out. This takes forever and my research has mostly stopped so I can focus on writing this dang thing.] For COVID-19, however, every organization saw the worth of finding a vax for this deadly disease. Different labs were all sharing data in real time. It was all-hands-on-deck and other research projects were pushed aside to focus on this very concerning disease.

PLEASE get vaccinated. For your health, your community’s health, and the health of everyone that you might come into contact with. Delta variant is more infectious (spreads more easily) and is on the rise across the country. Please get vaccinated.


*Don’t read too much into the OU Sooners being COVID-19 in this example. I needed a sports example. Apologies.

**they’re underpaid (or not paid) anyway, but that’s a debate around ethics of the NCAA. MOVING ON.

***For a slightly more precise yet clunkier analogy, imagine also that Tom Brady found the Sooners’ playbook and a list of their strategies for their game against the New England Patriots. A few of the Patriots players formerly trained under the OU coach. And also they had a few dozen members on their team who were the best of the best of OU’s former football players that they sometimes scrimaged against. Basically, the Patriots are crazy prepared for this game.

Links & Sources:


Post covid conditions

COVID in children

Vax safety & efficacy

Herd immunity

More vaccinated than had covid

mRNA vaccine history / how it works

mRNA vaccine history (technical links)



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