Moderna and Pfizer are the first COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States. They are Messenger RNA vaccines, also called mRNA vaccines.

To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. That is not so with mRNA vaccines. Instead mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein, or even just a piece of a protein, that starts an immune response. The immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.

COVID-19 mRNA vaccines give instructions to our cells to make a harmless piece of protein. Next, because our body recognizes the protein doesn’t belong, we begin to build antibodies, just like what happens in a natural infection against COVID-19. The benefit of mRNA, like all vaccines, is those vaccinated gain protection without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19.

Facts about COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines:

  • They cannot give someone COVID-19 because they do not use the live virus that causes COVID-19.
  • They do not affect or interact with our DNA in any way. mRNA never enters the nucleus of our cells, which is where our DNA is kept.
  • The cell breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA soon after it is finished using the instructions.
  • mRNA vaccines are held to the same rigorous safety and effectiveness standards as all other types of vaccines in the United States.
  • FDA will make available only COVID-19 vaccines that meet the standards. Approval is given through an Emergency Use Authorization.
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While new, mRNA vaccines are not unknown. Researchers have been studying and working with mRNA vaccines for decades. These vaccines can be developed in a laboratory using readily available materials. This means the process can be standardized and scaled up, making vaccine development faster than traditional methods of making vaccines. mRNA vaccines have been studied before for influenza, Zika and rabies. As soon as the information about the virus that causes COVID-19 was available, scientists began designing the mRNA instructions for cells to build the unique protein into an mRNA vaccine.

We understand that some people may be concerned about getting vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine. There are routine processes and procedures in place to ensure the safety of any vaccine that is authorized or approved for use. Safety is a top priority. There is no way to know how COVID-19 disease will affect you. And if you do get sick, you can spread the disease to friends, family and others.

Vaccination is an important tool to help stop the pandemic. Wearing masks and social distancing help reduce your chance of being exposed or spreading it to others. But the combination of getting vaccinated and following these measures offers the best protection. Stopping a pandemic requires using all the tools we have available.

The Centers for Disease control and the Minnesota Department of Health will continue to update the recommendations to protect communities using the latest science. Visit this website for more information about the vaccine and how you can help stop the pandemic: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/faq.html

There is now a COVID-19 vaccination map to help Minnesotans find local vaccine providers. The map, found at https://mn.gov/covid19/vaccine/find-vaccine/, gives all seniors across the state the opportunity to find vaccine opportunities in their area. Minnesotans can use the map to find vaccine providers near them and contact those healthcare providers with questions. While the locator currently provides information for seniors, it will expand over time as more Minnesotans become eligible for the vaccine.

Marcia Schroeder is a registered nurse with Horizon Public Health, which serves five counties, including Douglas County. Contact Schroeder at marcias@horizonph.org.