Understanding COVID-19 Vaccines
Vaccines can prevent serious illness, or prevent serious complications from infection, and are an important part of family and public health across the globe.
Currently, three COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson are approved for Emergency Use in the United States. Additionally, Novavax and Oxford-AstraZeneca are currently testing their vaccines in Phase 3 clinical trials. There are many other COVID-19 vaccines being tested or are already approved for use in other countries. For current, up-to-date information on the status of COVID-19 vaccines across the world, you can visit The New York Times Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker here.
The 3 types of COVID-19 vaccines in the United States are:
- Viral Vector: Johnson & Johnson and Oxford-AstraZeneca
- Nucleic Acid (mRNA): Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna
- Protein-based: Novavax
Viral vector vaccines insert genetic material from the COVID-19 virus into a weakened known virus (such as adenovirus). The weakened virus is used as a vector (or carrier) and is not able to cause disease. Once the vaccine is injected, the COVID-19 genetic material within the vector gives cells instructions to make B-Cells and T-Cells that will remember how to fight the virus if ever infected. The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is a viral vector vaccine.
Nucleic Acid (mRNA)
Nucleic acid vaccines contain mRNA directions that give your body’s cells instructions on how to make a unique Coronavirus protein. When the mRNA vaccine is injected, your body makes copies of the COVID-19 spike protein, prompting an immune response. Once your body makes copies of the protein, the mRNA material is destroyed, and if infected with the COVID-19 virus, your body will be able to fight the virus far better and faster than without the vaccination. Interesting to know, mRNA vaccine technology is not new; scientists have studied mRNA vaccines for decades. Also, mRNA vaccines do not use live virus, so the COVID-19 virus would not enter your body by injecting the vaccine. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines.
Protein-based vaccines include viral protein subunits. To work, these vaccines use the COVID-19 spike protein or a receptor protein of the COVID-19 virus and an ingredient (an adjuvant) to create a strong immune response. When you receive this type of vaccine, your immune system recognizes that the protein does not belong in your body and will begin making T-cells and antibodies to fight it, allowing your immune system to recognize any future infection. The Novavax vaccine is a protein-based vaccine.
*This information was last reviewed on March 2nd, 2021 by the NephCure COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee. NephCure will provide updated information as it becomes available.