COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine

The new COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are being rolled out but they are being met with skepticism from the general population. Staten Island Community News decided to reach out to Dr. Pooja Shah, an infectious disease doctor in Edison, NJ for a Q&A to discuss some concerns that people may have about the vaccine.

What is an mRNA vaccine and how does it work?

  1. These are our first mRNA vaccines (both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna’s). An mRNA vaccine is a different type of vaccine.
    • The COVID-19 mRNA vaccine is not a live attenuated vaccine.
    • It contains the genetic information used to make the SARS-COV2 spike protein.
    • This spike protein is part of the virus, which attaches to the human cells. It will not cause COVID 19 to occur.
    • Once this spike protein is created, it causes the immune system (our body’s defense system) to make antibodies against the virus. Antibodies are what we need to fight off any infection in our body. This is what will also protect you from the virus.
    • What is important to know is this mRNA will not
      enter the nucleus of the cell (where our DNA genetic material is kept) so does not affect your DNA at all.
    • It is also known to rapidly break down, so the possibilities of long-term side effects are reduced.
    • 2 doses are needed for it to work against the virus

Efficacy of the COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine:

How effective is it?

  1. The Pfzier vaccine showed 95% efficacy rate after the second dose
  2. The Moderna vaccine showed 94% efficacy rate after the second dose

How long has this type of vaccine been researched?

mRNA vaccines have been researched for over a decade.

How were they able to develop and produce the vaccine so quickly while historically it took so long for other vaccines to be developed?

  1. mRNA vaccines have been studied before with other viruses
    in the past, such as the flu, Zika, rabies, and cytomegalovirus
  2. Last year, scientists began working on the mRNA instructions for
    cells to build the spike protein needed for a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine.
  3. Also, the US vaccine system ensures that all vaccines are safe:
  • It is illegal for manufacturers to skip steps in the vaccine development stages. They are super cautious to make sure everything is done properly.
  • After a vaccine has been studied and examined, it goes through the FDA. The FDA reviews all the phases of the studies.
  • Manufactures will still monitor a vaccine effectiveness and side-effects. The FDA also reviews that information.

How do we know it is safe even though we haven’t had extensive and long-term trials and studies conducted on it?

  1. Thousans of people have already received it. Clinical trials set up around the world have good data.
  2. Most people report common side effects:
    • mild to moderate injection site reactions, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and joint pain.
    • Most of the symptoms occur after the second dose.
  3. Unfortunately, it is hard to say what the long-term effects are. It is important to point out that we are even still learning what the long-term effects of Covid 19 are.

How can we encourage people to take the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine?

The COVID-19 disease itself has a lot of effects on the body. The
symptoms vary from person to person. It is hard to know what the long-term effects are but we are learning about them. It is important that we take the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine for a couple of reasons:

  1. Vaccines are a safer way to build protection against germs and
  2. A vaccine will help prevent and reduce the severity of the disease.
  3. More vaccinate people protected from the virus will help reduce the spread of the disease.
  4. There is a chance you might still get COVID 19 after being
    vaccinated, but it should prevent you from becoming seriously ill or
    developing serious complications.
  5. If you are still unsure about the vaccine, I highly recommend discussing it with your physician to get more details and help answer any questions you may have.

Do I still need to wear a mask after I take the vaccine?

Yes, for now. Continue to wear a mask, use hand hygiene (wash
hands frequently with soap or alcohol swabs when appropriate) and social
distance even after receiving the vaccine. People are being vaccinated based on a vaccine rollout program/vaccine distribution plan. It is not sure how long the immunity against the virus will last.


Dr. Pooja Shah

Dr. Pooja Shah is an infectious disease doctor currently in private practice in Edison, NJ.  She works with her father, who is also an infectious disease specialist. She is currently affiliated at JFK University Hospital, Hackensack Medical Center, Raritan Bay Medical Center, Rahway Hospital and Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. She attended St. Georges Medical School, completed her medical residency at Seton Hall University at St. Michael's Hospital in Newark, NJ, and completed her fellowship at Eastern Carolina University/Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, North Carolina. Dr. Shah has been taking care of many COVID-19 patients since the start of the pandemic.

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