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/

Covid-19: Building a Future

“If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war… We’ve actually invested very little in a system to stop an epidemic. We’re not ready for the next epidemic.” -Bill Gates, 2015

Unfortunately, Bill Gates was exactly right in making this statement in 2015. Coronavirus, more specifically the COVID-19 known to us, is a highly infectious respiratory virus that has caused a global pandemic. Starting in Wuhan, China, it has traveled all around the globe to our comfy homes. Everything is being affected by this virus: economy, manufacturing, production, politics, jobs, but most importantly, our health.

COVID-19 is spreading globally at an exponential rate. It appeared in a city in China called Wuhan in December 2019, and is believed to have come out of a seafood market. Patient zero has still not been identified, but we all know the quickness of this virus. To combat the virus, China quickly put a strict lockdown on the city of Wuhan on January 23. China then locked down their whole country, becoming the first country to do so, in an effort to stop this virus. Travel bans were being held in place and countries slowly started to follow China’s example. South Korea, Italy, and Iran were hit especially hard with the virus. When March finally came, the U.S. finally decided to take some measures and hold restrictions to practice social distancing. Italy surged past other countries with the highest death toll and had the highest number of cases in Europe. Sporting events, concerts, competitions were all getting canceled, including the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Finally, we get to now in May, where Wuhan has become virus-free after a 77-day lockdown, and other countries, including the U.S., have started to open up while trying to maintain social distancing. 

This coronavirus, to some people, just seems like another type of flu or cold. But the reality is, it is much more dangerous than the flu and can become even more dangerous if we don’t take the necessary precautions. The coronavirus spreads through droplets released in the air, like when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Droplets, however, fall to the ground after a few feet, which is why people need to stay 6 feet away from each other and wear masks to not retain any droplets. It can also be spread through surface transmission, making washing your hands and not touching your face out in public very important. It may be possible, however, that you may not even feel the symptoms of COVID-19, especially if you are a younger person. Or you may feel the symptoms after about 14 days of coming in contact with the virus. But, the dangerous thing about this is that you can be a carrier and not even know about it, putting other people, especially elders, at risk. The majority of deaths are coming from older age groups because of their lower level of immunity. This pandemic is similar to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, and the world and the U.S. can learn from the mistakes and successes that different cities made. During that time, Philadelphia held a World War 2 parade, meanwhile St. Louis had put its entire city on lock down. The death rate in St. Louis was about 358 per 100,000 people while Philadelphia suffered 748 deaths per 100,000.

The time when this pandemic will stop is a question every expert is trying to solve right now. Nobody knows what the future of this virus holds. A vaccine is needed to truly live without fear and go back to a normal life. The bad thing is that the vaccine isn’t expected to come sooner than 2021, so we may have to get used to this social distancing. Scientists also don’t know whether COVID is a seasonal virus or will come back every year like the flu. If it comes back in the same strand as before, people will have immunity to it, but it can also come back in different strands like the flu, wherein the vaccine is a very key role in our safety. There is not much we know right now since this virus is so new. The facts we do know are that we have to practice social distancing as much as possible to ensure the safety of ourselves and others by slowing the spread of the virus to not overrun hospitals. 

The current focus is on stopping the spread of this virus, but we need to also start planning for our economic recovery after the virus. For companies in the medical field, business is booming, but outside of this, there are many more companies on the verge of collapsing. According to Deutsche Bank, the world’s major economies have the highest debt levels in the past 150 years, excluding World War II. There has been a similar instance, far tougher than what we are going to face, better known as the Great Depression. During the Great Depression, the United States’ GDP declined by nearly 30%, over a course of 43 months. In just the first quarter of 2020, the U.S. GDP has already declined by 4.8%. If we compare these two situations, the economic recovery will be much easier. The first step in the Great Depression comeback was to cut spending by lots. The second step in the process is lowering tax rates on the middle class. This may sound absurd for the government, but it’s a quite simple analogy. The faster people are able to recuperate, the faster the economy will recover. The current global pandemic has hurt the economy in countless variations, but in the famous words of Benjamin Franklin, “There are no gains, without pains.”

The COVID-19 pandemic will go down in history as one of the world’s most major events. No one has seen a virus outbreak this bad since the Spanish Flu of 1918 or a worse economic crisis than the Great Depression. Even with the advanced technology we have, a virus has shown that it is much more powerful. Hopefully, this can prepare the world for what to do next time with a pandemic of this scale. The memories you are experiencing during this time aren’t something many generations will live through. Later in life, this will be what kids study in their history class or what historical fiction novels will be about. Right now, though, we need to be doing everything we can to contain this outbreak and set the world on the right track again.