Your Health Questions Answered

How Does the Covid-19 Vaccine Work?

The vaccine does not use a live virus, like other vaccines, but instead relies on messenger RNA to help the body prevent infection.

By Allison Forsyth January 13, 2021

The Covid-19 vaccine has been distributed to thousands of people in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Image: Kari Perrin

If you're wondering how the Covid-19 vaccine actually works in the body, you are not alone. To help put patients at ease, Sarasota Memorial Hospital chief medical officer Dr. James Fiorica and medical director of infection prevention and control Dr. Manny Gordillo recently explained how the vaccine works in an informational video put out by the hospital.

Unlike the flu vaccine, the Covid-19 vaccine does not contain the live virus. Instead, it uses a series of messenger RNA, a system of genetic coding all living cells possess, that is injected into the patient. This means there is little chance a patient will develop Covid-19 due to the injection.

"The series of messenger RNA, which specifically matches that of the coronavirus, tells the cells in our body to make protein to protect ourselves against the virus," says Dr. Fiorica. "It's our own bodies protecting ourselves, not a foreign virus doing it." 

"The technology used to create this vaccine has really been in the works for two decades," says Dr. Gordillo. "It took about 10 years of inserting messenger RNA into cells, and once we discovered the exact RNA sequence of the coronavirus, scientists were able to develop the vaccine using this technology."

Patients must undergo two rounds of vaccination. After the necessary proteins have been built up in the body, the messenger RNA degrades and eventually disappears. You can still contract coronavirus after vaccination, if the vaccine hasn't had enough time to build up immunity in your system.

Is the vaccine safe? According to Gordillo and Fiorica, the United States Food and Drug Administration requires clinical trials to show eight weeks of vaccination data, and among the thousands of patients vaccinated, only minor side effects, such as pain at the injection site, have been recorded. Gordillo says only four cases of allergic reaction have been recorded worldwide, and doctors will observe patients 30 minutes after vaccination to ensure a reaction does not occur.

"This vaccine seems to be as safe as any other vaccine ever produced before," says Dr. Gordillo. "There were about 75,000 people vaccinated in both clinical trials, half of them receiving the vaccine, and no significant side effects have been shown past eight weeks."

If you decide to get vaccinated, will you still have to social distance and wear masks? Dr. Fiorica says yes. Those who have been vaccinated are encouraged to continue to wear masks and follow social distancing rules to avoid infecting others.

For more information about the vaccine and Covid-19, click here.

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