Quick Guide to Understanding the Different COVID-19 Vaccines

February 23, 2021

The past year has been challenging for most people, and particularly those with elderly loved ones. The COVID-19 vaccine, however, has been approved in record time, and is now being rolled out around the country. With so many different COVID-19 vaccine companies sending their products to market, how can you know which one is right for you? Are some more effective than others? Here, we look at the different COVID-19 vaccines, to answer some questions you may be asking.  

How do the different COVID-19 vaccines work?

How do COVID-19 vaccines work? As most of us have eagerly followed COVID-19 vaccine progress updates, anxious to know each COVID-19 vaccine update, many people have become confused by the different mechanisms behind the vaccines. All vaccines have the same goal: to help our bodies develop immunity to a particular illness. However, different types of vaccines work in different ways. Right now, there are three main types of COVID-19 vaccines in play in the United States. Some of these are already being distributed throughout the country, and some are still undergoing clinical trials. Let’s take a look at how each type of vaccine works.

mRNA vaccines give our cells instructions on how to make a harmless protein found in the virus. They contain material from the virus that allows our cells to make copies of the protein, after which our cells destroy the genetic material from the vaccine. Recognizing that the protein is foreign to us, our bodies build defensive white blood cells that will remember how to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 if they encounter it in our bodies in the future. Some people have concerns about this type of vaccine because they’ve not heard much about it and wonder if it’s safe. In fact, mRNA vaccines have been studied by researchers for decades, and are already in use for some illnesses, including the flu, Zika, and rabies. The thing that makes this type of vaccine appealing is that it can be developed in a laboratory with materials that are readily available, facilitating faster vaccine development than traditional methods.

The second type of vaccine is the protein subunit vaccine. These vaccines contain harmless proteins from the virus that causes COVID-19. As with other types of vaccines, our immune system recognizes the proteins as being out of place in the body and begins to fight them. Any future infections will be recognized and fought by memory cells.

Vector vaccines are the third type of COVID-19 vaccine. These contain a weakened version of a live virus. It’s a different, and harmless, virus than the one that causes COVID-19, but it has genetic material from the COVID-19 virus inserted into it. This inserted material is called a viral vector and once it’s inside our cells, it gives cells instructions to make a protein that’s unique to the COVID-19 causing virus, leading to our bodies fighting this foreign protein and, by extension, the virus. Viral vectors have been around since the 1970s. They’ve been not only used in vaccines, but also studied for gene therapy and molecular biology research and used to treat cancer. Notably, viral vector technology has been used for Ebola outbreaks.

Which vaccines are available?

So, what does all of this mean for the COVID-19 vaccine timeline in the United States? Currently, there are two vaccines that have been authorized for use in preventing the virus. The first is the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which requires two shots, 21 days apart. The second is Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, which requires two shots 28 days apart. Both the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are mRNA vaccines, and neither contain eggs, preservatives, or latex. These vaccines are both about 95 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.

Before they were approved for distribution, there was rigorous COVID-19 vaccine testing for each of these vaccines. Currently, there are other vaccines in the queue, with large-scale Phase 3 clinical trials underway or in the works for three new vaccines. These pending vaccines are AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, Janssen’s COVID-19 vaccine, and Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine. Many other vaccines are in the works, at earlier stages of development.

The distribution of the vaccine varies from state to state, with some states moving more quickly than others. In the entire United States, about 9.9 percent of the population has gotten the first vaccination, with about 3 percent having already gotten the second one. That may not seem like it's moving very quickly, but as of the COVID-19 latest update, about 43 million doses have been administered. When will it be your turn? COVID-19 vaccine status is based on which portion of the population the state decides is most in need of the vaccine. It's estimated, though, that most Americans will receive the vaccine by January 2022. You can follow the progress on the CDC’s vaccine tracker.  

What to expect when you get the COVID-19 vaccine

When it’s finally your turn to receive the vaccine, what should you expect? First, be aware that you’ll need to get both doses of your vaccine in order to develop immunity to COVID-19. In fact, it will take about two weeks after your second vaccine for your body to build up an immunity. It’s very important to follow your local Health Department’s advice on practices like wearing a mask and social distancing. As to the vaccine itself, the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines are similar to the side effects of some other vaccines. You might experience pain and swelling at the injection site, and you may have fever, chills, tiredness, and headaches. These side effects should be mild, and typically go away in a day or two.

At BrightStar Care, we know that healthcare can sometimes be confusing, and caring for a family member can be challenging. Because we believe that caring is more than just a job, our nurses, therapists, CNAs, and caregivers offer the most professional compassionate care available, in the comforting, familiar surroundings of home. Further, because we have a Director of Nursing overseeing all care, at every level, whether personal or skilled, our patients and their family members have access to someone with insight regarding COVID-19 vaccination. If you have questions related to the vaccines, or any follow-up questions, feel free to ask and we'll offer expert advice. Contact us or call 866-618-7827 with any questions, and to let us know what we can do for you.