What is in the Covid Vaccines?

Army Col. Sean Dooley, a doctor at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, receives a COVID-19 vaccination, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., Dec. 14, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

 

For many people around the world, this has been an exceptionally frightening year. From the first indications of a new virus emerging in China, to the slow trickle of reports as it arrived in countries around the world, and finally the lockdowns, sicknesses, and deaths that became daily news as the COVID-19 pandemic raged around the globe. Many of us have lost ones we loved, our jobs, or our sanity as the days go by and our lives continue to be disrupted by this new virus. 

As the end of the year approached, two vaccines appeared that promised to help end the suffering and finally get this disease under control. But to many, this seemed like it had to be rushed. Adding to that uncertainty, the average person doesn’t have the education to understand what is in these vaccines that they were suddenly being asked to trust. Conspiracy theories abounded and distrust swelled, threatening to upend the vaccination program.

Both vaccines have been proven safe and highly effective in large trials, and have already been given to tens of millions of people! Even so, as a healthcare provider, I know the importance of what is referred to as “informed consent.” It means that it is your responsibility to educate your patient to a level where their agreeing to a treatment is based on generally knowing what is being done to them, including the risks they face by allowing that treatment to go forward. I believe that the ingredients within the two emergency approved vaccines should be readily available, and there should be a basic explanation of what those ingredients are. 

The Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 has been scary enough; the ingredients within the vaccines don’t have to be as well. What follows is a very simplified breakdown of the ingredients within the first two vaccines to receive Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA: the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine:

 

Simple ingredient list of both vaccines:

  • mRNA – The active ingredient
  • Lipids, a different word for fats
  • Salts
  • Sugar

 

Messenger RNA (mRNA) is a single-stranded RNA molecule that is complementary to one of the DNA strands of a gene. The mRNA is an RNA version of the gene that leaves the cell nucleus and moves to the cytoplasm where proteins are made. During protein synthesis, an organelle called a ribosome moves along the mRNA, reads its base sequence, and uses the genetic code to translate each three-base triplet, or codon, into its corresponding amino acid.
https://www.genome.gov/

Further Breakdown

  1. Messenger-RNA

The messenger ribo-nucleic acid (mRNA) is the true active ingredient of the vaccine.  Our body makes, uses, and then breaks down natural mRNA constantly in order to function. Think of it as a copied set of instructions that takes information from our DNA and brings it to the parts of our body where we make stuff (amino acids and eventually proteins) necessary for our survival. 

In the vaccine, scientists made a synthetic copy of these instructions that allow our body to temporarily produce a single part of the virus known as the spike protein, which is harmless on its own. Our bodies then develop an immunity against the coronavirus by identifying and building defenses against the virus from this single part. We then break down this synthetic message and stop producing the spike protein, but our defense against the disease remains. 

To better understand it, think of it like this: when we get the vaccine, we are giving our bodies a fax which allows us to print a mugshot of the virus, which then allows our immune system to know the enemy we are up against in precise detail. 

 

  1. Lipids (Fats) 

These are just pieces of fat that allow our cells to absorb the messenger-RNA so that they can start making the spike proteins for our body to develop immunity. Using the analogy from the previous item in our list, you can think of these fat particles as the fax number that allows the vaccine to send the mugshot to your fax machine. 

 

  1. Salts

These salts allow the vaccine to have the same level of acidity as our bodies, which keeps it from causing harm inside of us when it is injected. The reason why things like battery acid or bleach will harm us is because it doesn’t match our bodies acidity levels, which is why you should never inject either of them! 

 

  1. Sucrose (Sugar)

This is just like the plain old sugar we know and love, except it isn’t put in the vaccine to make it taste sweet. The vaccine has sugar in it to keep all the ingredients from clumping together when it is frozen. 

 

Full Ingredient Lists

**While these may seem to contain names that you don’t understand and that might frighten you, those are all just the scientific names for the fats and salts in the vaccines! For example, Dihydrogen Monoxide sounds very scary, until you realize it’s just the chemical name for water**

 

  • Pfizer-BioNTech: mRNA, lipids ((4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate), 2 [(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N,N-ditetradecylacetamide, 1,2-Distearoyl-sn-glycero-3- phosphocholine, and cholesterol), potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate, and sucrose.
  • Moderna: mRNA, lipids (SM-102, polyethylene glycol [PEG] 2000 dimyristoyl glyceral [DMG], cholesterol and 1,2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine [DSPC]), tromethamine, tromethamine hydrochloride, acetic acid, sodium acetate, and sucrose.

Army Spc. Angel Laureano holds a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., Dec. 14, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

 

For more information, check out these links!

https://www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/pfizer-biontech-covid-19-vaccine

https://www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/moderna-covid-19-vaccine

https://www.fda.gov/media/144638/download

https://www.fda.gov/media/144414/download#:~:text=The%20Pfizer-BioNTech%20COVID-19%20Vaccine%20includes%20the%20following%20ingredients,),%20potassium%20chloride,%20monobasic%20potassium

https://www.pfizer.com/news/hot-topics/the_facts_about_pfizer_and_biontech_s_covid_19_vaccine

https://www.modernatx.com/covid19vaccine-eua/providers/about-vaccine

https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/12/09/1013538/what-are-the-ingredients-of-pfizers-covid-19-vaccine/

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