An Overview of Vaccines

Alexander Tang, Staff Writer

A year has passed since Lexington residents entered quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we are gradually progressing towards normalcy with the help of vaccines. Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson have produced vaccines with proven efficacy in large-scale clinical trials. 

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are grounded in mRNA, a nucleic acid that contains genetic information encoding proteins. The mechanism through which mRNA vaccines offer immunity is novel; the mRNA enters our cells and instructs them to produce spike proteins similar to those of COVID-19. In response, the immune system creates antibodies that destroy cells with those spike proteins. This will form immunological memory. On the other hand, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a disabled adenovirus, which delivers instructions to immune cells on how to defeat the virus. All three vaccines have been clinically proven to be effective, but the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, while the J&J vaccine only requires one. 

The mRNA vaccination concept has been the culmination of years of research. Dr. Drew Weissman, Lexington High School ‘77, conducts pioneering mRNA research at the University of Pennsylvania. His findings inspired Moderna’s founder, Dr. Derrick Rossi, to utilize mRNA in drug development, which led to the vaccine. Dr. Weissman’s contributions have proved instrumental in turning the tide against the pandemic. 

While the second shot for the mRNA vaccines have been causing many symptoms overlapping with COVID-19, this is to be expected. Like the flu shot, which can cause soreness in the arm, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will stimulate an immune response by the body, and signs such as soreness, exhaustion, and headache are simply a part of it. Therefore, you should not be worried if you experience these symptoms.

While the vaccines theoretically work in children and teenagers, clinical trials only used adults. However, those at least 16 years old can receive the Pfizer vaccine, and Moderna is beginning to expand their vaccine trials on minors who volunteer for the shot. Unless a series of complications arise, other companies will follow, and the vaccines should be available for young people soon. 

While most LHS teachers have received their first shots of the vaccine, the majority of students will have to wait for at least a few months. Even though the vaccinations are ongoing and unfolding at a fast pace, caution should not be superseded by complacency. Vaccines may give a recipient long-term immunity, but that individual may be able to spread the virus. Hunker down for a few more months, and hopefully, a normal school year awaits us when we return next fall.