Vaccines that prevent the COVID-19 infection are our best hope for ending the pandemic. But with so much information online about the various vaccines, their benefits, possible side-effects, distribution, safety precautions and more, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Some of the questions we’ve been getting at Buckhead Medicine, in addition to the above, are what happens if one has an underlying condition? Is there anyone who shouldn’t get the vaccine? Should one get the vaccine if one is breastfeeding, if they’ve already had COVID-19 or if they have a history of allergic reactions?

Let’s break it down for you before moving on to the various types of COVID vaccines available in the USA today.

Why should you get the COVID-19 vaccine?

The most obvious reason is that it will prevent you from being exposed to the virus, passing it on to someone else, and possibly becoming seriously ill or dying due to the virus. Secondly, when more people are protected by the vaccine, it makes it harder for the virus to spread. When we prevent the virus from spreading, we essentially also prevent it from replicating, mutating and becoming potentially resistant to vaccines.

What are the various types of COVID-19 vaccines available?

While there are several vaccines undergoing trials at the moment, only 3 of them have been approved by the FDA for administering to patients. Here are the vaccines that have been approved:

Pfizer BioNTech COVID Vaccine – The Pfizer Vaccine is 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 with symptoms. It can be administered to anyone aged 16 and older. The injections are given in 2 doses, 21 days apart.

Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine – The Moderna Vaccine is similar to the Pfizer one in terms of efficacy. At 94% effective, it is given to people aged 18 and above in two doses, 28 days apart.

Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine – As per clinical trials, this vaccine was 72% effective in preventing COVID-19 as of 14 days after vaccination. Administered to those who are 18 years or older, it is given in one dose.

How are the vaccines different?

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use the messenger RNA (mRNA). You’ve probably seen pictures of the Corona Virus with small spikes on the surface. This is called an S protein and the COVID-19 virus uses these spikes to enter human cells. The mRNA vaccine gives cells instructions to make harmless pieces of the S-protein. After vaccination, your cells start making this protein and displaying them on cell surfaces. In this way, your immune system recognizes that the S-protein doesn’t belong there and the body begins building an immune response by making antibodies.

On the other hand, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a vector vaccine. To create this vaccine, a harmless virus (also called a viral vector) was taken and a small part of its genetic structure was replaced with COVID-19 genes from the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. When this modified virus is injected into someone’s arm, it enters their cells and the immune system notices these foreign proteins that will protect the person if they are exposed to COVID-19 in the future.

Which Vaccine is the best?

It can be confusing to understand why public health officials advise us to take whatever vaccine your Primary Medical Centre is offering, when there are some vaccines that are said to be better than others. Naturally, people would want to take the best vaccine available. One issue with this is that the numbers that are focussed upon the most is ‘efficacy.’ What is more important is protection against hospitalization and death – something that all 3 vaccines do equally well. Currently, there is no data to confirm that vaccination will reduce the number of people who get mildly ill, are asymptomatic and thereby reduce transmission.

As we’ve explained above, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work the same way (mRNA messenger) while Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine works differently (using DNA which is transported into the nucleus of cells with a different kind of virus and modified so it can’t replicate itself). All the vaccines are safe and help the body retain a memory of the COVID-virus in order to attack it.

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