Vaccines 101: Vaccination, Immune System, and the COVID-19 Vaccine – Benefits and Side Effects

The question of how a vaccination would work to combat the current COVID-19 pandemic is a major concern right now. Everybody has their own perspective on the situation, and in some people’s minds, vaccines do not fit into the equation. Therefore, it’s extremely important to understand what a vaccine’s purpose is, how it is supposed to achieve that purpose, how a vaccine is developed, and its benefits versus side effects before coming to a final conclusion on the subject as it relates to the pandemic.

To understand a vaccination’s purpose it is necessary to first understand how a pathogen works. A pathogen is essentially any foreign material (foreign in the sense that it is not a part of the human body), that can cause disease or a malfunction of the body. They spread from surface to surface and person to person.

Vaccines: History and How They’re Made

Vaccinations are made to prevent a person from getting infected by a particular type of pathogen, and have completely changed modern medicine by substantially increasing the protection against infectious diseases. Before vaccines were created, diseases like measles and small pox were huge threats to society’s health, and they spread like wildfire. There was very little anyone could do to prevent themselves from getting infected. In fact, when Europeans colonized the Americas, they brought over many diseases that Native-Americans had never been exposed to before, and quickly, an estimated 80 to 90 percent of the population perished because of those diseases. In the 19th century, vaccines were invented and were extremely in eradicating infectious diseases. By the 20th century, diseases like measles and small pox, which previously were major threats, became almost completely eliminated.

Vaccines and the Immune System

Vaccines definitely made the world a safer place and are a powerful way of fighting off diseases that would otherwise kill so many people. Vaccines work by introducing certain molecules (called antigens) from a type of pathogen into the body. This sets off alarms in your body that triggers your immune response, the body’s way of getting rid of infectious diseases. The trick is, the antigens do not harm your body in any way. Even though they are part of pathogens, which do hurt your body, antigens are the non-harmful part of the pathogen. Still, they are enough to activate your immune response. As part of the immune response, your body produces proteins called antibodies, which are able to recognize and neutralize pathogens carrying the type of antigen which the vaccine introduced into your body. These antibodies circulate in your blood for the rest of your life. So, if that type of pathogen ever enters your body again, the antibodies can quickly recognize them and call on other cells which will ultimately kill the pathogen, preventing it from harming you or spreading to another person.

There is a critical downside to vaccines, however. It takes scientists and researchers a very long time to develop and test them before they are ready to used by society. The entire process usually takes ten to fifteen years, and there are standard procedures that need to be followed to ensure the vaccine is perfectly safe and won’t cause further complications to a person’s health. While these procedures are necessary, they significantly elongate the process. In many instances, by the time a vaccine is created, the pathogens from a type of disease have already caused irreparable damage. In other cases, by the time a vaccine is created, the disease is no longer a threat because it naturally fizzled out over time.

Vaccine Production: Phase Clinical Trials

The development of a vaccine begins in laboratories, where basic research takes place to identify antigens that could be used in the vaccination. This normally takes two to four years, and is called the exploratory stage. The next stage is the pre-clinical stage, and usually takes one to two years. During this stage, the vaccine is tested on animal subjects such as mice to assess the safety and effectiveness by evaluating what kind of response the subjects have to the vaccine. Most often, vaccines do not advance past this stage. In addition, researchers normally make changes to the original design during this stage to increase effectiveness. In the Unites States, if the vaccine advances past this stage, a sponsor must submit an application for an Investigational New Drug (IND) to be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The application includes a description of the testing processes and results. The FDA has 30 days to approve the application and send it through for clinical trials, which are comprised of three phases.

Phase I of the clinical trials usually involves a small group of adults to be tested with the vaccine. This group is normally made up of 20-80 people. Clinical trials always begin testing on adults first, even if the vaccine is intended for children. The conditions (called control variables) for all subjects are closely maintained and kept as similar as possible to ensure they do not impact the results. If the results show that the subjects were effectively protected against a pathogen and did not face further complications arising because of the vaccination, the vaccine proceeds to the second phase of the clinical trials.

Phase II of the clinical trials typically involves a larger group of subjects, normally about seven hundred of them. There is also a placebo group in this phase, or a group of subjects who aren’t administered the vaccine but some other harmless substance to compare the results of the experimental group with. This phase is used to determine the vaccine’s safety, dosage amounts, and method of delivery.

Phase II of the trials involved an even larger group of subjects, normally thousands. Again, the vaccine is compared to a placebo. This time, the goal is to identify any rare side effects and again test the efficacy of the vaccine. If the results are good, the developer submits another application to the FDA for a license. The FDA inspects the procedures followed and if the application is approved, continues to monitor the vaccines production. Phase IV trials may also occur. These are optional tests that the drug companies might conduct to ensure everything is safe and works well.

Despite all the tests that are conducted, many people do not want to take vaccines for a variety of reasons. The most prominent of these reasons are religious. Many people do not want to have put anything synthetic into their body as it goes against their religious beliefs. In addition, many people believe vaccines are methods governments use to accomplish their own hidden agendas. A popular belief is that vaccines are used to secretly sterilize people and reduce the population.

Although these beliefs do exist among many people, vaccines are generally seen as a way to protect society from infectious diseases. Amidst the current pandemic, vaccines are seen by many as the only way to curb the spread of COVID-19. Vaccines are being tested currently and because of new technologies, the process is being sped up, which is causing concern in the medical community about whether the vaccine will be safe and efficient.

COVID-19 Vaccine: Benefits and Side Effects

It is important that methods be used to protect against COVID-19, and vaccines are a promising way to do that. The development of the COVID-19 vaccine is a priority for maintaining the well-being of society. Some of the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine include pain, swelling, and redness in the arm where the shot was placed. Other side effects felt by the rest of the body can include fevers, fatigue, headaches, muscle pain, chills, and nausea. Despite these side effects, the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the cons, such as boosting the immune system and saving lives from contracting severe COVID-19 disease.

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