Health Officials explain what is in the COVID-19 vaccine and how it will work

What is the vaccine and how does it work?

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The rollout of the Pfizer vaccine is said to be the biggest vaccination effort in U.S. history.

“It is true that this has happened more rapidly,” UAB Pediatrician Dr. David Kimberlin said. “We are in the middle of a pandemic. We have to act more rapidly.”

Dr. Kimberlin said even with its speedy development, The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine still went through the same number of trials as other vaccines.

“The standard approach for developing, evaluating, and approving a vaccine is for there to be initial preclinical studies,” Kimberlin said. “Then, phase one trials. That is where you figure out what dose to use. Then, phase two and three trials is where you give it to usually 30,000, 40,000, and 50,000 people that enroll in the studies. You give about half of them the active vaccine. You give the other half a placebo and you see how many people get ill. Not ill from the vaccine, but that allows you to determine if the group that got the vaccine have very low levels of disease and the group that got the placebo get higher levels of vaccine, then that shows the vaccine protected against the disease.”

“There has been an acceleration of the standard process,” Kimberlin said. “The process has been the same, it’s just happened faster. I would suggest that is a good thing.”

Dr. Kimberlin said vaccines prepare the immune system to fight off viruses by showing the body a small portion of the virus.

“Then later down the road, if they actually see the real pathogen of the disease, they are already primed to be able to fight off that infection. The vaccine basically prepares the immune system and in preparing the immune system, it protects if a person is exposed to the virus,” Kimberlin said.

Dr. Kimberlin said the piece of the Coronavirus in the vaccine is called a spike protein.

“This is where a lot of that immune response come in,” he said. “Pretty much all the vaccines that are making their way along at a good clip are using this spike protein as a way to show the body part of the Coronavirus and then letting the body develop the immunity against it, without having to get the virus in the first place.”

Dr. Kimberlin said the spike protein is copy of a very small portion of the virus.

“This is not the virus,” he said. “It is a little copy of a very small portion of the viral genetic material that simply instructs your body what to do when and if you are subsequently exposed. You are not infected with Coronavirus, Kimberlin said. “You are just getting a little piece of it to tell your body how to make the spike protein and once you’ve made the spike protein, then your body makes the immune response to it.”

Kimberlin said the COVID-19 vaccine is also made up of MRNA.

“This is a different kind of a vaccine,” he said. “The way that the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines work is there is MRNA. It is kind of like computer code that tells your computer what program to run. The MRNA is a piece of manufactured genetic material that is only a little snippet of the overall genetic material of the Coronavirus.”

Kimberlin said it’s normal to see mild side effects from the vaccine. He said it doesn’t mean you have COVID-19 from the vaccine. He said if you were injected with the virus, then your side effects would be much more severe.

“The reason you have these things is because the spike protein is not a part of us,” Kimberlin said. “Seeing these side effects, they are manageable and they are not extreme. It shows that the vaccine is working.”

Kimberlin said the vaccine’s effectiveness surpassed his expectations.

“It is remarkable to see this kind of protection,” he said. “This 95%, it knocked my socks off. It was really not what I expected. I thought we would be lucky to get 50-60% benefit.”

Dr. David Hicks with Jefferson County Health Department said it is still a long road ahead.

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