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COVID-19 vaccine: How it works

Coronavirus

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – On the surface of the coronavirus is the spike protein – that’s how COVID-19 enters our cells.

Because the coronavirus is new, the body’s immune system is not ready to attack it.

The new vaccines change that by getting the body ready to fight.

“The vaccines either give us the spike protein or get our cells to produce the spike protein then our immune system says ‘what is that I have to attack it,'” said Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the UC San Francisco Department of Medicine. “It attacks it but now it’s primed and ready to attack any spike protein it sees again and the one you’re worried about is the one on the outside of the virus.”

Both the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines require two shots, 21 and 28 days apart, and in trials have proven to be 95% and 94% effective, respectively.

They are remarkably effective, as good as vaccines ever get, so what you can take to the bank is they will prevent 19 of 20 cases of COVID.

While the vaccines prevent you from getting sick, Dr. Wachter says it’s still not clear if in all cases it prevents you from getting infected and becoming a carrier.

That’s something he says we should know in a few months.

Until we are sure about that, we still need to treat ourselves – even the vaccinated people – as if they are at risk to carry it and give it to other people.

In terms of side effects, Dr. Wachter says studies show for most they are similar to what happens with the flu.

A decent proportion will have a reaction to getting the vaccine – the most common reaction is your arm hurts.

Some have a fever and aches, which generally last a day. Some had nothing and felt perfectly fine.

During the U.K.’s first day of vaccinations, two people with a history of allergic reactions responded adversely to the shot.

Dr. Wachter says those with a history of experiencing severe allergic reactions to other vaccines should hold off on getting the vaccine until there is more information.

Still he remains confident in the two vaccines.

There are 50,000 people who have been followed for two to four months and there is no signal in the data that either Pfizer or Moderna causes any severe late-term side effects.

Are we 100% sure? No.

But in the history of other vaccines that caused bad side effects, they usually show up in the first three months.

What is not yet known is how long the vaccine lasts, but Dr. Wachter says he believes it’s likely a year.

What also remains unclear is how people will be categorized into a priority ground, and how they will end up getting the shot.

Dr. Wachter says large hospitals and local pharmacies will likely play a major role in that, but the details are still being worked out.

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