Vaccination – Part 2: The mRNA Vaccine
If you skipped the first installment, Vaccination – Part 1: The Anatomy, please read that first. If you don’t understand how your body works, you’ll miss how cool this science really is!
In our first installment, your heroine (yours truly) had set about understanding what buzzwords such as RNA, mRNA, immunity, and spike proteins mean prior to attempting to understand how the vaccine works. In a death-defying feat of dry reading, I asked and answered the following basic anatomy and viral anatomy questions:
Q: What is RNA and what does it do?
A: My body has a team of RNA
mRNA – the recipe
tRNA – the grocery-getter
rRNA – the chef
They interact in order to make the amino acids that will be used to build the proteins my body will use to build more of me. Once their lifecycle is complete, they will naturally degrade and be eliminated from my body.
Q: How does my immunity work to protect me?
A: My immune system knows what’s me because my RNA built me from a copy of my DNA.
My immune system will attack and destroy anything that is not me and it will remember how it destroyed it. Should the invader ever return, my immunity will recognize it and kill it.
Q: What are the spike proteins of a virus and how does a virus work?
A: A virus uses spike proteins like grappling hooks to grab my cells and hang on so it can gain entry to my cells. Once inside my cells, it uses the cell’s power plant to make copies of itself. These copies will seek out more of my cells to do the same.
Again, just because I’m recapping this here, this isn’t meant to be a substitute for skipping the first article. This is simply to help spark your memory for the previous illustrations as they will be referred to again in this article. Please make sure you read Vaccination – Part 1: The Anatomy.
Once I understood these three things, I started to get really excited! The confusing aspects of what I had been reading regarding the vaccine started to come into focus. Suddenly I started to realize how brilliant the science behind this vaccine is. What’s more, in my opinion, how synergistic this kind of medicine could be!
Let’s break this down. Knowing what the ingredients in the vaccine are really starts to make things take shape. The ingredients in the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are:
- Lipids (fats)
Let’s see what role each of these plays in the vaccine.
Let’s take a minute to consider self-defense training. In the world of how to defend yourself, we have three options.
- You are attacked by a bully and you have to defend yourself.
- You are attacked by a wounded or dead bully (I know that sounds ridiculous – just go with me here) and have to defend yourself.
- You have some sort of target meant to represent a bully and you are being taught how to defend yourself.
Scenario 1 would be the equivalent of you walking down the street and getting beat up by a bully. (Most schools of self-defense wouldn’t throw you in a room with a bully like this and say, “defend yourself!” You simply don’t have the skills yet.) You might get in a few good licks but since you didn’t see it coming and may not even possess basic self-defense skills, there’s a good chance you’re going to sustain some significant personal damage before you can fend off your attacker.
Scenario 1 would be the equivalent of contracting a virus. You know how terrible you feel when you contract a virus? You’re getting beat up while your body is learning how to defend itself.
Scenario 2 would be the equivalent of a self-defense class where the instructor broke the legs of the bully, threw him into a room with you and said, “defend yourself!” (Anybody else get visions of Cobra Kai here?) It sounds ridiculous, of course. Naturally no self-respecting self-defense school would do this but you gotta admit it would give you a significant advantage to learn and prevail with minimal injury.
Scenario 2 would be traditional vaccines in which the vaccine contains a weakened or dead virus for your body to use in order to learn how to defend itself.
Scenario 3 is the way most schools of self-defense are run. You don’t have a real attacker. You have some sort of target such as a paper bullseye, punching dummy, or sparring partner portraying the part of the bully. You get to learn how to defend yourself with the safety of knowing that your target is benign and isn’t really trying to hurt you.
Scenario 3 is an mRNA vaccine.
mRNA – The recipe for a punching dummy
Remember from Vaccination – Part 1: The Anatomy that you already have mRNA in your body. Its job is to make a copy of a segment of your DNA and bring that copy to tRNA and rRNA to make the amino acids that will construct a protein. This is a natural process that’s happening millions of times in your body, over and over again, to build what your body needs in order to live.
In the case of the vaccine, what scientists figured out is how to write the recipe for something specific on their own strand of mRNA. In other words, they learned how to make their own recipe card. The recipe they figured out was the recipe for the very spike protein the COVID-19 virus wears on its outer shell. Now keep in mind that this is not the entire virus. This is a recipe for ONLY the spike protein of the virus.
Remember that these spikes, when attached to the actual virus, are the grappling hooks that would grab onto your cells. When these are attached to a virus, they are probably the most dangerous part of the virus aside from the virus’s genetic cargo. The virus needs the spike proteins to grab your cell and hold on while it invades the cell. Once inside it hijacks the cell’s power plant and makes more of itself.
What if, however, your body could identify these spikes in advance and already know how to defend itself? What if my body knew how to prevent these spikes from attaching to my cells in the first place? If a virus can’t attach itself to my cells then it can’t infect them
By introducing the vaccine’s mRNA recipe to your cell, your body’s own tRNA (the grocery-getter) and rRNA (the chef) work together with the vaccine’s mRNA (the recipe) to construct spike proteins. These spike proteins aren’t attached to anything dangerous. They are merely proteins that were not made from your DNA. These spikes will either migrate to the outside of your cell and poke out or they’ll become debris floating around when that cell dies. Either way, your body looks at these spikes and says, “hey! That’s not (insert your name here). I need to get rid of that!” Your body then creates a specific antibody to do just that.
In other words, what your body has just created is a self-defense target with an identifiable attribute of the bully (spike protein). Your immune system goes to work removing this foreign protein (target) from your system. While this is happening, your immune system takes careful notes about this altercation and creates a self-defense memory of how it dealt with this bad boy. The next time your immune system sees anything that looks like this target (like the virus itself paying you a visit), your immune system will spring into action with its newfound skills and prevent it from harming you!
I found this to be sheer brilliance. The beauty of this strategy is that my own body gets to do the work. My body wouldn’t play temporary host to a slightly incapacitated virus (I’m sorry but that just creeps me out) or even a fully functional virus multiplying at break neck speed and possibly doing damage to my body before my immune system could successfully eradicate it. With the vaccine’s mRNA** (see note), my body works synergistically with the “recipe” presented. I build the “target” spike protein myself and then my immune system simply eliminates the target and creates the memory of how to destroy anything else I might encounter in the future that looks like that (like the real virus).
Note** The vaccine’s mRNA already has a recipe on it. It never enters the nucleus of your cell because it doesn’t need to interact with your DNA to obtain its information. (Even if it wanted to, it can’t. This mRNA doesn’t possess the signals required to get in.) The vaccine’s mRNA shows up to the party with its recipe already in hand. It simply enters your cell and hooks up with your own tRNA and rRNA. Think of it as a “recipe cookie exchange.” Instead of an mRNA copying from your grandmother’s cookbook (your DNA), this outside mRNA is bringing a recipe from someone else’s cookbook (lab engineered). Fact is that your body likes your grandmother’s (DNA) cookies better so when it gets a taste of a recipe it mixes up from someone else’s kitchen (spike protein – YUCK!), it’s going to spit it out fast (activate immunity)!
The mRNA in the vaccine is also what is called “non-replicating vaccine.” This means it’s a one shot deal here. The vaccine’s mRNA has no mechanisms within it in order to produce proteins on its own. It can only build proteins with the help of our bodies’ tRNA and rRNA. Once the lab engineered mRNA has been transcribed (the recipe is read and amino acids for the target proteins constructed), just like the mRNA of your own body the lab engineered mRNA degrades and is eliminated from the body.
Lipids’ role in mRNA Vaccines
One of the reasons mRNA vaccines have been so slow to come to the forefront is that mRNA is very unstable. I don’t mean in a volatile way. I mean stability wise. It’s this inability to hold together that made mRNA a challenge to deliver.
mRNA can basically fall apart prior to its hooking up with its tRNA and rRNA buddies. Unlike DNA, mRNA has fewer hydrogen bonds. See the rungs on the ladder of the DNA? Those are hydrogen bonds and they make that structure very strong. mRNA on the other hand, has very few making it susceptible to being unstable.
Second, mRNA has a couple of bullies in the mix. mRNA has an extra hydroxyl group that is a very tasty temptation for other molecules in your body to steal. There is also a myriad of proteins in your body that can degrade mRNA. Think of it as a bully stealing lunch money or beating up a kid for the fun of it. Poor mRNA has a pretty risky existence just even trying to get to work!
I don’t know why but this part really got me excited. Seems to me what researchers did was take a play rightout of the viral play book in order to use it against the virus! Remember how the virus has a fatty shell protecting its inner genetic cargo? Scientists figured out if they coated the mRNA in lipids (fats), it allows mRNA to get to the destination without the bullies taking the lunch money! Uh, I mean, picking them apart. The lipid ingredient in the vaccine is this coating for the mRNA. This insures it’ll make it to a cell to deliver the recipe for how to construct a target!
Saline’s Role in mRNA Vaccines
This ingredient helps make the the vaccine compatible with the fluids of the body. It’s a common ingredient in many medications dissolved in water. This ingredient helps deliver the vaccine more comfortably into the body.
After breaking all of this down, I had finally put to rest the statement that had haunted me: “I think I’m afraid of it because I don’t understand it.” I understand it now and now I’m excited! I was no longer afraid of participating in taking the vaccine. What’s more, I was eager to do so and it’s not because I was afraid of getting COVID-19.
“If you’re not afraid of getting COVID-19, then why take it? What difference does it make?”
To me, there are three very good reasons and the difference it makes to me reaches far beyond being immune to COVID-19. But for that answer, you’re going to have to go to Vaccination – Part 3: Why I Did It.
At the time of this writing, I had just received the second dose of my vaccine. 24 hours following that dose I did experience some of the commonly reported side effects. I did run a mild temperature, was achy, and I did have a headache. This lasted most of the day and the headache lasted a little into the following day. (It probably could have been abated with aspirin or NSAIDS but I unfortunately can’t take any of those as my body has nasty reactions to pain killers. I just gotta ride it out.)
Fact was, however, I wasn’t sick. As I see it, this was merely my immune system kicking into gear. When your immune system encounters an invader, it makes your body as inhospitable an environment to this unwelcome guest as is possible. The result for me in this case was my feeling feverish and achy as my immune system turned up the heat and called in the troops to vanquish the intruder.
It sounds like I’m splitting hairs here but consider this. I did not have a cough, sore throat, runny nose, bronchial distress, or any of the other unpleasantries that come courtesy of a virus. These symptoms can manifest when a virus is multiplying in my system and attacking various parts of my body while my immune system is attempting to fight it.
In the vaccine scenario, there are no rampant viruses running around wreaking havoc. All I had was an inert protein floating around that didn’t come from my DNA. I simply ran a fever, was achy, and had a headache. As far as I’m concerned, these are signs that the immune system was firing. Call me a geek but it was pretty cool to feel my immune system kick into gear and observe how it behaves while feeling healthy overall.
The question remains though, “why do some people have these side effects while others do not.” That I cannot answer. It doesn’t mean that their immune systems didn’t fire. I can only theorize that because everyone’s immune system is different, each body demonstrates activating immunity to varying degrees of perception.
**Please note that I am in excellent health. I have no known health issues or immune system impairments. Decisions regarding participating in vaccination were based on this fact. Please consult your physician prior to becoming vaccinated if you presently have or suspect you may have health issues. This series should in no way be considered a substitute for the advice of your current medical practitioner.
A series such as this one was extremely challenging to write. Thank you so much to everyone who helped provide feedback and encouragement. Special thanks to advance reader, friend, and bookworm extraordinaire, Elizabeth Robinson who helped keep my grammar in line. Thank you Jon Cooper (a.k.a. The Web Wizard), my web guy who suggested that I split the article into a 3 part series when I hit the 3200 word mark (and I wasn’t finished with the first section yet)! Also a most sincere thank you to the medical professionals and researchers who advised me. It was my concern that the information presented here be accurate. Their input helped insure that my examples and simplifying of concepts still accurately portrayed the science being discussed. They also helped cite areas in need of clarification. For this guidance, sincere thanks goes out to Joe Adams, Strategic Business Development at Life Omic, Andy Demofonte, PharmD, Gary Fourman R.Ph., Lilly & Co. (retired), and Devon Hensel MS, Ph.D. I couldn’t have done it without you!