Worried about virus “variants”?
For days now the news has been the arrival of virus “variants”, the first of which popped up in the UK. Now they appear to be in 36 of the US states. And that is just today.
So now the worry is whether the vaccine will be effective with these variants? And did the CDC or the government or the pharmaceutical companies screw this up?
And then one can’t help but wonder about this idea of continuing to wear a mask and distance AFTER getting the vaccine. And they won’t tell me how long the vaccination will be good for? We have to get a flu shot every year. Surely, some think, these are signs that the vaccine doesn’t work. Another good excuse, we think, for not getting the vaccine. Seems like we need to bring some clarity to this whole thing.
What is a vaccine?
First and foremost, the public has never heard as much about a virus or the development of a vaccine as we do today. Unfortunately we just “know” the OMG stuff that someone says can go wrong. As a result we think we are “experts” and are good at second guessing. Hold that thought.
Vaccines given before you get infected are called “preventive” and you get them while you are healthy. This allows your body to set up defenses against infections ahead of time. That way, you won’t get the infection if you’re exposed to diseases later. Vaccines are used to prevent diseases like polio, chicken pox, measles, mumps, rubella, influenza (flu), hepatitis A and B, and human papillomavirus (HPV), to name a few.
History of vaccines
The history of vaccines in the United States is long. In 1796 Edward Jenner inoculated a 13 year-old-boy with vaccinia virus (cowpox), and demonstrated immunity to smallpox. In 1798, the first smallpox vaccine was developed.
Cowpox is not particularly dangerous except for people who are immunosurpressed. Smallpox, on the other hand, is considered the most dangerous virus in the world, estimated to have killed 500 million people in the last 10 years of its existence.. Smallpox was irradicated in the United States in 1972 due to vaccinations.
Back in my day kids just got chicken pox from each other. In my mind I can see my daughter on the couch, covered with pox (including in her mouth) and miserable. In the mid 1900s they discovered that the same virus that caused chicken pox also caused shingles. Once you have had the chickenpox, the virus can “hide out” in your body and then reappear in later life in the form of shingles. My daughter can attest to this. Anyone who has had shingles knows they are awful. A vaccine for shingles was approved in 2006.
Development of vaccines
HIV is a virus that attacks the t-cells of the imune system. The first known infection was discovered in 1959. Over time, HIV can destroy so many t-cells that the body can’t fight infections and diseases, eventually leading to the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. The HIV virus mutates rapidly, making vaccine creation almost impossible. AIDS is controlled with a variety of antiviral medications that kill most of the virus but it is never yet “cured.” It has taken many years to develop those medications.
Take note that it often takes many years to create an effective vaccine. The reason is simple.
First they need to figure out how the virus works. Before we knew about genetics we often just hypothsized and tried stuff, depending on luck and accidental discovery – like with small pox. This is much easier and efficient now.
Then we think what might block the infection, create a vaccine based on that hypothesis, test to see if the vaccine is generally safe, that it actually prevents infection, that any side effects are acceptable, what mutations are discovered over time, modifications made to compensate for the mutations, that the safety results will be the same when millions as opposed to thousands of people are vaccinated.
Use your imagination. Just as with small pox a lot of dying can go on before a vaccine is developed, approved, and actually be injected in people’s arms. The CDC and FDA would have validated the results provided by the drug company and approved the drug after a long and tedious process.
Emergency Use Authorization
To avoid the small pox phenomena, the long and tedious process is short circuited with the new COVID-19 vaccines. The m-RNA (don’t worry about what that means) vaccines first developed for COVID-19 tested extremely well thru the initial safety and efficacy stages. In the interest of speed (after all, people were dying here) the approvals were for “emergency use.” That means more testing, broadening of tested populations, research, answers to other questions is required before the usual final approval.
Can an vaccinated person infect someone else?
One of those little questions that would normally have been answered BEFORE distribution is this: will the vaccinated person be able to pass the virus on to someone else even though they are personally protected. Until that question is answered, the vaccinated person needs to keep wearing a mask and social distancing.
How long will the vaccination last?
Another little question is how long will the vaccination last? The is a question that only time will answer. Another reason why the normal approval process takes so long.
Now, as to mutations. Virus’, like bacteria, are clever dudes. Sooner or later they figure out how to change themselves (mutate) in order to keep your immune system from getting in their way.
So now the COVID-19 mutations start showing up as they inevitably will. Testing and modifications are in progress to assure that the vaccine still works as intended on the mutated virus. That means research that once happened BEFORE vaccine distribution is now happening AFTER. The goal is to be beat the mutations to the draw.
Beating the mutations to the draw has two parts. Don’t get infected. We all know what that means. Masks, distance, hygiene. As long as you fight those simple guidelines the easier it is for infections to occur, paving the way for mutations.
Part 2, when you can get vaccinated, do so.
Will the vaccination give me the virus?
Finally, an m-RNA vaccine does not contain the virus and will not infect you. Just remember its purpose.
Lots of people say “every time I get the flu shot, I get the flu.” That is incorrect. You are undoubtedly getting symptoms associated with immune activation. And the interesting thing about the flu is that it also mutates. Every year the vaccines are modified to accommodate mutations.
The COVID-19 vaccine intends to activate your immune system so it knows how to prevent the infection. Activating your immune system creates many of the same symptoms as having the virus. So if you get a fever, aches, pains, chills, all sorts of problems after your second shot (particularly) of a m-RNA vaccine that means your immune system is doing its job. It does NOT mean you have the virus.
The immune system
Your ability to cope with and recover from any infection is dependent on your immune system. In turn, the strength of your immune system is heavily dependent on the absence of chronic health conditions including obesity. People with chronic health conditions are the ones most likely to become extremely ill and even die from a COVID-19 infection.. When you are healthy, your diet is the primary contributor. Hold that thought as well.
Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book hat guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Proceeds from her book benefit the Montgomery County Food Pantry. Her website is http://www.allaboutthefood.org/ She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 870-490-1836. Her Facebook page is www.facebook.com/patsmithbooks.