The coronavirus vaccines will not give you COVID-19. In fact, they can’t.
The two leading drugs, by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, were developed with a new technology that makes them unlike any vaccines approved before. They’re called messenger RNA vaccines, and they trigger an immune response in the body without using live virus.
Several readers have reached out to the Tampa Bay Times recounting getting a flu shot, then coming down with the flu. But what likely happened was that they felt their body’s immune response caused by the vaccine, which introduces inactivated flu virus, or a single protein of it, and can cause mild flu-like symptoms.
While some of those same symptoms are possible with the coronavirus vaccines, becoming infected with COVID-19 because you got a vaccine is impossible. There is no amount of the virus, live or not, in the vaccines, which means there’s no way taking one can give you the disease.
Instead, messenger RNA vaccines teach the body’s cells how to make what is called a “spike protein,” which activates the immune system. That activation produces antibodies, which protect against infection.
The vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna each require two doses spaced weeks apart. Experts have said the first will give recipients about 50 percent protection from COVID-19, while they’ll have about 95 percent after the second.
“At the end of the process, our bodies have learned how to protect against future infection,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states. “The benefit of mRNA vaccines, like all vaccines, is those vaccinated gain this protection without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19.”
Researchers have been studying and working with messenger RNA vaccines for decades, including for the flu, Zika, rabies and cytomegalovirus, which affects humans and monkeys.
Interest has grown during the coronavirus pandemic because the drugs can be made in a laboratory using readily available materials, according to the CDC. That meant production could be scaled up and expedited during the crisis.
Among the possible side effects of the coronavirus vaccines are fever, chills and soreness at the injection site, all of which are typical of most vaccines, including the flu shot.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly explained how the flu vaccine can affect the body.
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