A message from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: The Pfizer vaccine is fully licensed, but how does this mRNA vaccine actually work?

On Monday, Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved as fully licensed Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for those 16 and older. Those 12 to 15 years of age can continue to get the vaccine under the current emergency use authorization.

There continues to be misinformation circulating on social media and other communication channels about how the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine actually works. I’d like to set the record straight:

  • Can you get COVID-19 from the vaccine? No.
  • Can you become infertile from the vaccine? No.
  • And, finally, does it alter your DNA? No.

I would like to share with you how an mRNA vaccine works, and why it does not impact your DNA.

First, I’d like to talk about how your immune system works. Your immune system attacks things that look foreign to it. When a germ enters your body, and the immune cells don’t recognize it, your body goes on the attack.

However, building up a system to defeat a germ such as the COVID-19 virus takes time. Your immune system needs to figure out what part of the virus to attack. When your immune system figures it out, it increases the production of what it needs to attack the virus. That takes time, but the virus hasn’t slowed down. As your system is figuring out how to fight off the virus, the virus is infecting your cells and expanding quickly in your body.

After your immune system figures out how to fight the virus and clears it from your body, it remembers it. If the virus comes back, your immune system launches an attack more quickly and more effectively. Your body is amazing; it is designed to use its past experiences to destroy the virus before you can get really sick.

Scientists studied the COVID-19 virus and noticed a protein, called the “spike protein,” on the outside of the virus and realized that would be the best part of the virus to attack. The virus uses the spike protein to get into your cells, and the spike protein makes the virus more infectious. However, on its own, the spike protein cannot infect your cells to cause COVID-19.

The idea behind mRNA vaccines is to tell your cells to produce just that specific spike protein. 

So how do you tell cells to produce that spike protein? The same way you tell a cell to do anything, with RNA. An important point to make here is the relationship of DNA and RNA.  DNA is the blueprint to make things in a cell. Cells take DNA and copy portions of it to RNA. The RNA is the actual message (messenger RNA or mRNA) that tells the cell what to make. However, mRNA never changes DNA.  

Scientists took the DNA blueprint for the spike protein on the COVID-19 virus and made messenger RNA for that just that spike protein. These instructions are the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. 

The vaccine does not contain the whole virus. It only has the instructions on how to make the spike protein on the virus. Since you have only received the instructions for the spike protein, you cannot get infected from the vaccine.

Your cells take these instructions and make the spike protein. Then, your immune system sees the spike protein, and knowing it is a foreign object in your system, starts assaulting that spike protein. The fevers, chills, muscle soreness, and other side effects that you get from the vaccine is your body attacking that protein.

Your immune system will wipe out the spike protein (which can’t infect you because it is the protein, not the virus). Now, your immune system will remember this spike protein, and your body remembers exactly what to do to destroy it.

So, what happens to the mRNA after you get the vaccine? The same thing that happens to all mRNA; your body breaks it down after the message has been delivered. Everything from the vaccine is gone except the memory of how to defeat COVID-19 virus, and that is the reason the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine is so effective.

I hope this helps you.

Have a safe and healthy weekend. I encourage you to choose to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Resources: Dr. Madhav Sarda, University of Saskatchewan; Dr. Christine Hahn, state epidemiologist, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, CDC’s “Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines”

2 thoughts on “A message from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: The Pfizer vaccine is fully licensed, but how does this mRNA vaccine actually work?

  1. Pingback: From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Why I chose to get vaccinated; an update on our five-year strategic plan – DHW Voice

  2. Pingback: From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Correcting COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation takes all of us – DHW Voice

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