Infectious disease expert illustrates how COVID-19 vaccine works


HIGH POINT, N.C. — Twenty-four hours after Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine arrived in North Carolina, health care workers in the Triad have already begun to receive the first of two doses. But how exactly does the vaccine work?

The COVID-19 molecule is made up of dozens of proteins — the red circles you often see on COVID-19 drawings. Those are also called particles. The vaccine has one particle to help teach your body how to fight off infection.

“Particles of the virus that go into circulation of the body, your body is able to recognize those particles and mount an immune response to it right then and also remember what that particle looks like so that in the future should that particle be encountered, your body already has the cells ready, the immune response ready to take care of it before it ever takes hold,” infectious disease expert Dr. Jordan Smith said.

Smith, who teaches clinical science at High Point University’s Fred Wilson School of Pharmacy explains unlike the flu shot, the COVID-19 vaccine does not contain the actual virus, just a single protein that is responsible for making people sick. The mRNA acts as a messenger by bringing the protein to our cells which then takes in all of the information.

“mRNA makes that protein. Our body recognizes that angry protein and our body says, OK I’ve seen it, I’m ready for it. Bring it on,” Smith said.

This is how you will be protected from COVID-19.

Smith tells FOX8 the use of mRNA in vaccines is a relatively new form of science that has been in the works for the last few decades.

“This is available to us currently because of the incredible work people have done with COVID-19’s earlier cousins. The original SARS outbreak, the MERS epidemic. Work was being done with those viruses to learn how to produce these things so once we saw this start to attack the world, we’re able to say, OK here’s what we’ve got, we’ve got the genetic code, let’s start working on it,” Smith said.

The mRNA vaccine is quicker to make since it doesn’t contain the actual virus and is safe to use.

“It doesn’t get incorporated into our DNA. It doesn’t become a part of our machinery,” Smith said.

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