COVID-19 has wrecked havoc with our lives and economy for about the past year. And now there is hope on the horizon in the form of about half a dozen new vaccines. But what does this mean, how do they work, and what is in a shot? Conspiracy theories are running wild, and yet, there is a lot of research that has been done on these vaccines that has been published in peer-reviewed journals. In this first letter, I am summing up what is known about the two frontrunners by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna.

Both, the BioNTech/Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine are mRNA vaccines. mRNA is a messenger molecule in between DNA and protein and helps to message the information that is contained in the DNA to synthesize a fully functional protein. In the case of the COVID vaccines, this is the full length spike protein that forms these funny looking spikes on the outside of the virus. The spike protein attaches to a specific receptor on our human host cells, which then starts a cascade that ends up with a lot more viruses and a dead human cell. There is no mechanism for any mRNA molecule to integrate into DNA, which is one of the reasons mRNA vaccines are considered very safe. Instead, mRNA gets quickly translated into spike protein (by your own ribosomes) and then gets degraded by the human cell. The spike protein will then have time to induce an immune response, so that next time you encounter COVID, you will be protected.

To facilitate the transfer of mRNA into your cells, it gets packaged into a lipid nanoparticle. This whole concept of using mRNA in a nanoparticle is not new, it has been used for several years to deliver cancer drugs. ‘Nano’ just means it is a small particle, nothing about 5G or so. There is no chip in there either. The vaccines are reasonably cheap to produce, which is essential for widespread vaccination efforts. However, if you don’t like the concept of an mRNA vaccine, there are others in the making, watch out for them.

Do you hear me say that you should get the vaccine? I would never go so far as to consult individuals. Only your physician knows what is good for you. But for us as a society, it is essential that many of us get vaccinated. What I am trying to say is listen to the experts and try to get some facts. They are out there. And I assume we all agree that we want our lives and economy back.

Birgit Pruess lives in Fargo.

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