We are all sick of COVID-19, and for my subscribers, you know I try to stay clear from the topic. Unfortunately, the reality is that despite proof that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, there are many people who are hesitant to get vaccinated. And I understand – I truly do! It feels like coronavirus vaccines appeared really quickly, and most of us had never even heard of mRNA vaccines before 2020.
What if the vaccines have side effects?
Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?
What if the vaccine causes cancer (or worse) 50 years from now?
These concerns are valid, but if you bear with me and keep reading, you’ll see those mRNA vaccines aren’t quite as scary or new as we like to think!
Vaccine Hesitancy & Public Health
There are many different reasons that you may be cautious about getting a vaccine (or any new treatment).
In fact, we are all worried about our health in one way or another. It’s natural to want to explore and research new topics, treatments, and concepts.
Moreover, there are many different levels of vaccine hesitancy. Some people just wish their doctor would have a more honest conversation with them about the potential dangers of vaccines. Others are more confident in their immune system’s ability to fight off whatever may be thrown at it.
In many ways, vaccines are a personal choice. It is your body. Shouldn’t you be able to choose what you put in it?
Yes. And no.
The reality is that vaccines are the single most effective public health measure against disease. Simply put, it is why most of us don’t have to worry about smallpox, diphtheria, or polio.
Vaccines protect us as individuals, but they also prevent the spread of disease through a population. Furthermore, the fewer people who get sick, the less likely a disease will mutate and get worse. Vaccines are also much cheaper than hospital care, keep hospital beds open, and allow societies to function normally.
For COVID-19, vaccines are the light at the end of the tunnel where periodic lockdowns used to be the only way to keep the virus in check. If you look at hospitalized cases, most are people who are unvaccinated, which proves that these vaccines are critical in preventing severe infections.
mRNA Vaccines: New Innovations
mRNA vaccines are a new and exciting technology, but they are only new in that this is the first time they have been applied through vaccines on a massive scale.
On the other hand, mRNA technology has been studied for decades, and has been used to understand other diseases (like Zika virus), and even to treat cancer! So, the technology is not new at all. Cancer treatments include teaching or coding mRNA to detect cancer cells (or tumors), which the mRNA then teaches to the immune system, allowing it to more effectively combat cancer! This research into using mRNA to treat cancer began in 1997, over 20 years ago.
Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna had a long history of working with mRNA vaccines and treatments before 2020. Drug treatments and other vaccines (such as a rabies vaccine) had been in the works for years before COVID-19 entered the scene.
Thus, while mRNA vaccines seem new, they aren’t really.
There has just never been a reason for most of us to hear about them until recently!
Likewise, many people are hesitant about mRNA vaccines because of how quickly they appeared. They were created very quickly! In fact, I was shocked that they were being administered so speedily.
To many, the speed with which the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines were created and distributed was a huge red flag. Some of us may even be thinking “if we could create that vaccine so quickly, then how come we haven’t created a vaccine for AIDS or tuberculosis?”
Those are valid questions.
Firstly, researchers had been studying mRNA technology for a long time. We were also lucky that the COVID-19 virus was not as complex as HIV/AIDS. It wasn’t too difficult to identify how to create a vaccine, and then do it.
So where did the speed come from?
As with anything quick, mRNA vaccines were developed quickly because a ton of money was funneled into the front-end process! COVID-19 was shutting the world down, destroying the economy, and hurting countless people. A vaccine was a priority, and so governments and private companies both made it a priority to find a way to interrupt the pandemic.
The rigor of vaccine trials did not change. Doctors and public health professionals across the world continuously monitor vaccinated persons for adverse outcomes. As we saw, when a rare blood clot arose in Astrazeneca vaccines, they all but disappeared from use. If mRNA vaccines showed adverse health outcomes, they would not be going into people’s arms.
How Do mRNA Vaccines Work?
Now, this is the cool part!
For this section, it helps to imagine that your immune system is made up of tiny little assassins.
Most routine vaccines are made with a weakened or dead virus. This allows your immune cells to recognize the virus when exposed later on. Quicker recognition leads to a stronger, swifter immune response, which means you don’t get as sick (if you get sick at all).
Our immune system reacts the same to any germ, but instead, it gets taken by surprise (Trojan horse style). That is why you tend to get sicker when you are not vaccinated. Some viruses can be really nasty (like measles, which can wipe out your immune system for five years!), or they mutate so quickly that getting sick does not guarantee immunity the next time (like the flu). Regular sickness also does not guarantee your body will remember the virus the next time it sees it (which is what we see with natural COVID-19 antibodies – they disappear within a few months of getting sick).
mRNA vaccines work a little differently. Instead of introducing your body to a form of the virus, they introduce a specific protein on the virus.
So, imagine instead of dragging around a weakened bad guy to all the assassins telling them to look for bad guys wearing this uniform, mRNA vaccines distribute posters. The posters have coronavirus’ face on them and their favorite gun.
Your immune cells learn to recognize this specific protein and build up antibodies to this protein. If the protein was a gun, this means that the tiny assassins all wear bulletproof vests and practice evading corona-bullets.
Because COVID-19, even weakened, isn’t in the mRNA vaccine, you cannot get COVID-19 from it!
Isn’t mRNA Genetic Material? Could It Mutate My Cells?
A HUGE concern with mRNA vaccines is that they may cause humans to genetically mutate, causing who knows what long-term effects down the road.
But, as we addressed above, mRNA has been used clinically for a while now with no adverse long-term effects. It kills cancer, it doesn’t cause it.
More importantly, vaccines do not stay in your system forever. They show up, make your immune system go through a boot camp, and then break down. mRNA also never actually enters your cells – it meets the immune assassins in the courtyard, teaches some new tricks, and is flushed out of your system within hours.
I am a big proponent of understanding what you put in your body. For example, I try to avoid prescription medications and limit my ibuprofen usage. Also, kale isn’t as healthy as most nutrition gurus would have you believe.
But vaccines are different. They are a one or two (maybe three) dose experience over a lifetime. Vaccine components do not stay in your body for extended periods of time. They do not accumulate enough to cause long-term problems (or mutate your cells).
And this is another reason vaccines are amazing – they are not a treatment. They are simply a way to expose your body to a virus without your body having to fight that virus directly.
Remember Karate Kid, where he spent hours waxing cars and picking up jackets? That was so when he had to fight, the moves and patience were ingrained in him from the beginning! Vaccines are just Mr. Miyagi.
mRNA Vaccines: Are They Safe?
I get it. COVID-19 vaccines are new, and it seems like we do not know that much about them. But, when you take a look at the long history of mRNA research, it really isn’t as scary as it seems. There are more dangerous long-term effects to sunbathing than there are to any vaccines.
Likewise, even mild cases of COVID-19 can cause long-term health effects. Severe cases can cause organ damage, and damaged lungs are no joke. With a growing number of variants, stopping transmission from person-to-person is critical to preventing mutations and even worse strains.
Finally, it is important to remember that while vaccination seems like a personal choice, it isn’t. Your choice influences how many businesses can open, how many hospital beds are available, and how comfortable others feel in your company.
At the end of the day, the choice is yours. If you do choose not to take advantage of the safe, effective, and downright amazing vaccines, then I urge you to continue to follow public health orders such as wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing, and limiting social engagements.