College of DuPage Nursing Student Sebastian shared with Healthy Lombard that there has not been a single aspect of what we once knew of as daily life that has not been affected by the life-changing COVID-19 virus. COVID-19—short for coronavirus disease 2019—is the disease that put a halt to 2020 here in the United States (and globally) infecting up to 1.1 million people and claiming the lives of approximately 21,500 (Illinois Department of Public Health, 2021). The cause of all of this? The SARS-CoV-2 virus—an RNA virus (Machhi et al., 2020).
It is important to first consider what an RNA virus is, and the answer is that it is a virus that holds its genetic material in either single or double-stranded segments of RNA. Think of RNA as DNA’s ‘buddy who codes all sorts of biological blueprints,’ in the simplest, smallest way possible, and then calls on it for future reference, when it needs to make something or cross-check something else against its records (Helmenstine, 2020).
The question, then, is how to protect ourselves from an RNA virus-like SARS-CoV-2? The answer involves several steps. The first is to wash hands and avoid touching the face since germs, or pathogens enter the body through these routes. Next, maintain social distancing and wear a mask when in public (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021). Are there more considerations in preventing SARS-CoV-2, however?
That is where the new friend, the RNA vaccine, enters the scene. This type of vaccine results from years of research (collected from studying other RNA viruses and their potential use in vaccines) and involves a simple mechanism. Specifically, specific portions of RNA from the virus itself are used to ‘warn’ the body and prepare it for infection (Pardi et al., 2018).
Is the SARS-CoV-2 Virus in the Vaccine?
Actually, no; a virus-like many things—is constructed from the instructions within its genetic material to create proteins; proteins are the ‘basic building blocks of a virus. Since the SARS-Cov-2 virus is an RNA virus, an RNA vaccine is used for a specific chain of RNA, from its target virus, to familiarize the body with the virus.
The body can then use this opportunity to evaluate what has entered the system, and if it is foreign, i.e., the body doesn’t like it, an immune system response will be initiated. Within a few weeks, the immune system remembers the foreign substance (acquired immunity) and is able to defend itself if a future encounter or attempt to invade the body occurs (Pardi et al., 2018).
Is the Vaccine Safe?
This is not known with absolute certainty as is the case with any vaccine. Potential risks exist with many vaccines that we have previously received such as, hepatitis B, MMR, chickenpox, flu, and shingles. Sometimes it is important to weigh the risks against the benefits. It is also important to consider that people react differently to vaccines; some do not react at all.
What is the Benefit of Receiving the Vaccine if the Safety is not established?
This is an opportunity to research the vaccine and think critically about the source of the research to determine whether it is valid and reliable. Are social media posts accurate; are the sources without references, or are they sources from peer-reviewed journals? Is it reasonable to consider a self-claimed doctor who is spreading misinformation in an online video, a sound source, able to educate the public regarding vaccine safety rather than countless other physicians who have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, and who have produced much evidence that disagrees with false claims?
It is tricky to navigate the internet, especially in 2021, as it is possible to access false information. Remember, before turning your back on an RNA vaccine when it only wants to be a ‘friend’ to the immune system, consider the alternatives and the benefits of returning to a more normal, everyday lifestyle.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). (2021). Illinois Department of Public Health. Retrieved February 4, 2021, from http://www.dph.illinois.gov/covid19
Helmenstine, A. M. (2020, February 2). The Differences Between DNA and RNA. ThoughtCo. Retrieved February 4, 2021, from https://www.thoughtco.com/dna-versus-rna-608191#:~:text=DNA%20is%20a%20double-stranded%20molecule%2C%20while%20RNA%20is,DNA%20and%20RNA%20perform%20different%20functions%20in%20humans.
Machhi, J., Herskovitz, J., Senan, A. M., Dutta, D., Nath, B., Oleynikov, M. D., Blomberg, W. R., Meigs, D. D., Hasan, M., Patel, M., Kline, P., Chang, R. C.-C., Chang, L., Gendelman, H. E., & Kevadiya, B. D. (n.d.). The Natural History, Pathobiology, and Clinical Manifestations of SARS-CoV-2 Infections. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Retrieved February 4, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7373339/
Pardi, N., Hogan, M. J., Porter, F. W., & Weissman, D. (2018, January 12). mRNA vaccines — a new era in vaccinology. Nature Reviews Drug Discovery. Retrieved February 4, 2021, from https://www.nature.com/articles/nrd.2017.243#citeas
Things to know about the COVID-19 pandemic. (2021, January 5). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 4, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/need-to-know.html