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COVID-19 Vaccines
Maddie Kim

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Since then, our world has changed dramatically, leading many to associate the rolling-out of the COVID-19 vaccines with the end of the pandemic. However, it’s not quite that simple. 

Which COVID-19 vaccines are currently available in the United States?
Currently, there are two vaccines authorized to prevent COVID-19 in the United States: the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. Both of these vaccines have an efficacy rate of about 95 percent.

However, as of Feb. 3, 2021, three other COVID-19 vaccines are going through large-scale (Phase 3) clinical trials in the hopes of getting approved for usage. AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, Johnson and Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, and Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine all appear promising to researchers, and in the coming weeks we may see some approved for usage. 

How do COVID-19 vaccines work?
The two COVID-19 vaccines approved for usage, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, are both messenger RNA vaccines (mRNA vaccines). 

These mRNA vaccines are different than some we’ve seen before. Many vaccines work by placing a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies, which helps our immune system familiarize itself with the virus. However, the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines do not do this. 

Instead, the mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a harmless protein that is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. Therefore, these mRNA vaccines cannot give someone COVID-19 since they do not contain any live virus. Once the vaccine is administered to a person, their body receives instructions for how to make these pieces of protein. After these instructions are followed and the proteins are made, the cell breaks down the instructions and disposes of them. Because our bodies are incredibly smart, our immune systems recognize that the proteins do not belong, which then triggers an immune response, prompting our immune systems to produce antibodies to protect us from COVID-19. Through this process, the body is able to learn how to protect itself from infection. 

What new developments regarding the COVID-19 vaccines are unfolding now?
Currently in the United States, 55,943,800 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed, and 33,878,254 doses have been administered.  

Currently in Tennessee, 1,043,575 doses have been distributed, and 657,819 doses have been administered.

So far, the data for all five of the current COVID-19 vaccines looks promising. According to the New York Times, of the 75,000 people who have received one of the five vaccines in a research trial, not one has died from COVID-19. 

Some new variants of the virus have emerged in Britain, Brazil, and South Africa. These variants, according to the New York Times, have made some vaccines less effective at eliminating infections. Referring to the South African variant of the virus, Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, stated, “This variant is clearly making it a little tougher to get the most vigorous response that you would want to have. But still, for severe disease, it’s looking really good.”

The Biden administration has announced that it aims to send one million vaccine doses to 6,500 retail pharmacies on Feb. 11, marking the beginning of a federal program that will deliver vaccines to as many as 40,000 drugstores and grocery stores. Dozens of chains are participating in this federal program, including CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Rite Aid, Kroger, Publix, Meijer, Costco, Jewel-Osco, and Safeway. CVS stated on Tuesday, Feb. 2,that it would begin offering vaccines on Feb. 11, in 11 states; Walgreens said on Tuesday, Feb. 2, that it would begin offering vaccines on Feb. 12, in 15 states. 

Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?
A: All of the COVID-19 vaccines in use have first been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This clearance occurs after the vaccines’ passage of rigorous studies, which are performed in order to ensure that the vaccines meet the FDA’s strict safety criteria.  

Q: When will I be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine?
A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have formulated recommendations based off of those made by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), an independent committee comprised of medical and public health experts. Click here to read more about the CDC’s proposed vaccine roll-out plan.

Q: If I have already had COVID-19 and recovered, do I still need to receive a vaccine?
A: Yes. Even after being infected with COVID-19, it is still possible to become reinfected. Therefore, according to the CDC, you should be vaccinated regardless of whether you’ve already had the COVID-19 virus. 

Q: If I receive the vaccine, does that mean I no longer have to wear masks or social distance?
A: No, even after you receive the vaccine, the CDC recommends you continue wearing masks and social distancing. This is because even though COVID-19 vaccines do provide protection from the virus, experts do not yet know whether getting a COVID-19 vaccine will also prevent you from spreading the virus to others. Therefore, the CDC recommends that we continue to follow these guidelines, even after receiving the vaccine: 

  • Wear a mask over the nose and mouth.
  • Stay six feet from others.
  • Avoid crowds.
  • Avoid poorly ventilated spaces.
  • Wash hands often.

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