Answering COVID questions: What is the science behind these vaccines?

Doctor answers common questions about COVID, new vaccines

We have been receiving a steady stream of COVID-19 questions from our audience.

If you have one, submit it here.

Here’s one that I have been receiving in several variations -- Michelle from Center Line wrote:

“I have pre-existing conditions and have a child a Down syndrome who is immunocompromised. Is it safe for me to visit the dentist for much-needed care?”

Here’s the important answer: You should not put off any important care due to COVID-19. All medical and dental offices have put practices in place to protect patients and staff. We do not want fear of seeking care to lead to more medical problems as we definitely saw in the spring.

Questions about the vaccine science

Many people have questions about the two vaccines closest to approval. Keith from Macomb asks:

“Will the method used to create the vaccines alter my DNA?”

Timothy from Highland asks:

“I was told I cannot take live viruses due to immune suppressant medication. Will the benefit outweigh the risk in this case?”

Both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines, meaning they are not live virus vaccines. In fact, they are about the furthest thing from it.

These vaccines use artificially-produced genetic code that gets our bodies to produce only the spike protein that’s on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Once we produce that spike protein, our immune system reacts to it and generates antibody immunity.

Although a theoretic possibility, based on animal experiments and existing human data, there has not been any evidence that the small pieces of messenger RNA can become part of our DNA. it’s estimated that over a period of weeks the mRNA is naturally destroyed after it has been used to produce spike proteins.

What if you already had COVID?

Andy from Plymouth and several other viewers are asking similar questions:

“If you have already had a known case of COVID and recovered, should you still get the vaccine shots? Should you go to the end of the line?”

While that sounds reasonable, there are a couple of considerations:

We don’t know precisely how long-lasting or effective the immunity that someone gets from a natural infection is. For that reason, at this time the plan is to give the vaccine to people regardless of past infection.

However, there has been some discussion that in a situation where there is a limited amount of vaccine and some people know they have been infected, they might voluntarily delay their vaccination.

Should you get an antibody test to determine your ranking for the vaccine?

Another related question is if you should get an antibody test to help determine your ranking for receiving the vaccine? The idea is if you have the antibodies, then you would go to the end of the line.

This may also seem logical, but the problems are that antibody tests are not reliable enough to ensure that you have protective immunity. Moreover, practically speaking, administering the vaccine already will be a challenge. Adding one more cog in that wheel definitely would not be beneficial.

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