The Vaccine is Here

.. not for all of us yet, but we’ll get there.

Let me say: the vaccine is an amazing achievement by the outgoing administration. Producing a vaccine comprises an effort that normally takes years to accomplish .. and they did it in only eight months. Further, COVID-19 is a significantly more-deadly, more-contagious pathogen that was unknown a year ago. Thank you.

Some common questions I’ve heard, and heard answered. Reminding all: I’m not a Doctor .. but have learned a lot, and there’s lots of logic in these discussions as well from which we can extrapolate:

How can a vaccine produced in only eight months be safe and effective?
Despite how you might feel the outgoing administration has addressed day-to-day handling of the pandemic, Operation Warp Speed funded the science in parallel with ramping up manufacturing and distribution. By working with all the pharmaceutical companies at the same time, and with these companies collaborating (rather than competing), they reduced the amount of failed experiments and duplicative efforts to arrive at promising vaccine candidates. The breadth of the testing (30-60,000 test subjects on various trials) and the FDA peer reviews ensure the public the vaccine is safe to take.

How is this vaccine different from other types of vaccines?
There are 2 candidates (with a third on the way) with similar differences to older vaccines. Older vaccines helped the body to create immunity by introducing weakened or dead virus into your system, stimulating an immune response. Given rapid infection, the high mortality rate and the broad damage COVID-19 can cause to your system, a different tactic was deployed. Teach the body to create what it needs to defeat a component of the virus, versus responding to a viral attack.

Can I catch COVID-19 from the vaccine?
In a word, no. The vaccine does not introduce COVID-19 into your body. Your body is being ‘taught’ to eliminate one component of the virus (more on this below) and not the virus itself. Note that even with the vaccine, you can still carry COVID-19 for a short while if you are exposed.

If COVID-19 is in my system and I’ve had the vaccine, could I become contagious?
Yes, but again, not because of the vaccine. Given the number of cases (note that most carriers do not display any symptoms), we are exposed to COVID-19 several times each day, depending on where we go, with whom we connect, for how long, whether we wear a mask, and so on. As a result, COVID-19 could enter your system, reproduce to an extent, and you could potentially shed a small amount of the virus. The chance of this is far lower than today, as the vaccine prevents the virus from entering your cells, a key component of your producing enough of the virus to become contagious .. or even test positive, for that matter.

I’m a Science Geek. How does the vaccine teach the body to repel it?
The vaccine deploys mRNA which teaches your body to repel the one critical piece of the virus to prevent it from entering your cells. You are not killing the virus itself .. it will get into your system if you are exposed, but mRNA will prevent it from entering your calls and replicating from there.

I’ll bite. What is mRNA?
Short for Messenger RNA .. a single-stranded molecule that corresponds to a specific genetic sequence of a gene. The vaccine uses a specific mRNA message to block one component of the virus: the bit that enables the virus to enter your cells. By blocking this entry, the virus cannot replicate, and it dies out. Now, the vaccine didn’t happen that quickly .. while only two days to produce the mRNA payload, getting to this technology has taken years.

I’ve had COVID-19. Should I get the vaccine?
If you’ve had COVID-19, you are / were likely immune for some amount of time, but this is still a subject of considerable research. Like the flu, or the Common Cold, COVID-19 virus mutates, making it difficult for your body to gain extended immunity.

I’ve had the vaccine, do I still need to wear a mask?
I believe COVID-19 is going to be around for a long time. While it doesn’t live out in the open for very long, every person who is exposed contributes to the reservoir of virus that is out there. It is very contagious and very aggressive once it gets into an unprotected body, even in small amounts. Once over 60% (some say 70%, others 80%) of the public has had  the vaccine, there may be far fewer places / people who can spread it. I think were a long way from that, so I suggest you continue to practice COVID-19 safety protocols until the CDC gives the all-clear.

Some summary notes for a future article:

  • The vaccine is a two-shot dose, the first ‘primes’ the system, the second boosts it. This is similar to the Shingles vaccine.
  • While Warp Speed has done amazing things in arriving with a vaccine, manufacturing in enough bulk and distribution are still being worked out. We will likely see ‘waves’ of distribution to The States, where they will decide which groups will get the vaccine first.
  • Health Care workers and those in live-in facilities have been identified as the first groups to get the vaccine.
  • Lower-risk folks will likely be able to get the vaccine in mid- to late-2021, but not much earlier.

For now, stop the spread: mask up. Testing still lags spread, so it’s best to protect yourself and those around you. Again, .. And I think we need to still Behave like you have it ..

We’re getting close .. Let’s not fumble now. “Respect the Mask” and respect each other. Wear a mask.

About Michael Coates
I am a pragmatic evangelist. The products, services and solutions I write about fulfill real-world expectations and use cases. I stay up-to-date on real products I use and review, and share my thoughts here. I apply the same lens when designing an architecture, product or when writing papers. I am always looking for ways that technology can create or enhance a business opportunity .. not just technology for technology's sake. My CV says: Seasoned technology executive, leveraging years of experience with enterprise and integration architectural patterns, executed with healthy doses of business acumen and pragmatism. That's me. My web site says: Technology innovations provide a myriad of opportunities for businesses. That said, having the "latest and greatest" for its own sake isn't always a recipe for success. Business successes gained through exploiting innovation relies on analysis of how the new features will enhance your business followed by effective implementation. Goals vary far and wide: streamlining operations, improving customer experience, extending brand, and many more. In all cases, you must identify and collect the metrics you can apply to measure your success. Analysis must be holistic and balanced: business and operational needs must be considered when capitalizing on a new technology asset or opportunity.

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