Covid-19 vaccine has come like a ray of hope for most of us who are trying to keep an arms distance – make it two arms distance - from the virus. With several viable options coming into the market it has only strengthened our hope. Now that it’s time to get ourself inoculated let us understand how these vaccines work.
By now we all have seen in pictures how the lethal virus looks like. A ball like structure having spikes coming out of it. Let’s understand this in a little more detail but in simple terms. The Sars-Cov-2 virus has two important components, the spike protein and the RNA genetic material that is protected inside its hard shell. When a virus enters a human body, upon reaching the lungs it uses its spike protein protrusion to enter the tissues of our lungs. The lung tissues being extremely sensitive they respond to only certain kind of foreign objects, protein is one of the approved kinds of material. Once the spike protein attaches itself to the receptors in the lungs it gets transported into the lungs where it releases its RNA for multiplication and regeneration.
When inside, RNA from the virus with help of Ribosome from the recipients body starts to multiply. Eventually, all the replicated viruses start to spread in the body triggering an immune response. In response the body starts to increase its temperate - read fever, to try and kill any mild viruses if possible. In a few days the body starts to build antibodies that intelligently attaches itself to the spike protein preventing it from attaching to the receptors in the lung tissues. When the body produces enough antibodies to bind to all the viruses is when it wins the battle against the virus.
To put it in plain language, vaccines help our body generate enough antibodies so it can fight against deadly viruses and bacterias. Once the vaccine delivers its ingredients into the body, it triggers a natural response in the body. The resultant is a body that recognises this new kind of the virus and is ready to react better the next time around.
Now when the body comes in contact with an actual virus it simply remembers and gets into action and starts building a large number of antibodies. These as explained earlier stick to the spike protein making it useless. The virus is not able to permeate the lung tissues and is left to die.
As of now, several vaccines are manufactured by various pharmaceutical companies around the world. Pfizer, Moderna, Sputnik V, Novavax, Covishield and Covaxin are a few of these. Out of these Pfizer and Moderna require deep freezers maintaining a temperate of -70C. This option isn’t viable in India This is mainly because of possible constraints in cold-chain infrastructure required to maintain these vaccines in good condition as temperatures in summer reach as high as 50C in certain parts of the country.
Covishield is developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca but is manufactured locally by the Serum Institute of India (the largest manufacturer of vaccines in the world). Covaxin which is developed and manufactured by Bhart Biotech is an indigenously developed vaccine that works by incorporating an inactive or dead Sars-COv-2 virus that has lost its replicating properties but generate a good immune response. Both Covishield and Covaxin can be stored at 2C to 8C, the temperature a standard refrigerator maintains is 3C to 5C.
Covid-19 has introduced us to various complicated terms like hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir, tocilizumab, etc. and then there is the easy to read but not readily known term – mRNA. ‘m’ here stands for messenger. Scientists have very carefully and intelligently created mRNA that replicate the spike protein structure of the virus to create material that are look-a-likes of the actual Sars-COv-2 virus. Once the body starts producing the spike protein, on one end the mRNA material is destroyed while on the other the body marks this new protein as foreign body and prepares to create antibodies to destroy it. Similar to what happen to our body when it tries to fight an infection naturally. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use this novel technology (although a new technology this approach has been studied for a long time and is also used to treat some cases of cancer) for their Covid-19 vaccines.
Covaxin uses the traditional technique of using inactive or killed Covid-19 virus to which the recipient’s body reacts and creates antibodies. As a result, the body is able to recognize and react faster the next time it encounters the same virus.
Covishield on the other hand uses a safe virus, eg a common cold virus found in chimpanzees which do not infect humans, to deliver a part of the virus which is usually a protein component. This, when reaches the human body triggers an immune response helping build immunity against Sars-COv-2 virus.
Getting inoculated is just a layer of protection that we create between us and the virus. This does not mean that one can move about without a mask or be careless and not keep extra hygiene and vigil. The covid-19 vaccines are capable of keeping infections at bay, however just to a certain extent. What it does, in a way, guarantee is that it will reduce time spent in a hospital or the intensity of the disease.
While you wait for you change to get the vaccine, it is a good idea to keep monitoring any changes in your health. This will especially be beneficial for those having comorbidities. It will also help catch the disease early on in turn reducing the chances of any complications.
Until we can get past this pandemic…
Mask up everybody!
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