Which COVID-19 Vaccine Is Right for You?

July 27, 2021

Public service announcements tell people they should receive a COVID-19 vaccine to reduce the severity and spread of the coronavirus, but which vaccine should you get? The short answer is whichever COVID-19 vaccine you are offered. All three are effective at reducing how sick someone gets if they contract the infection. Currently, over 95% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 or who have died from the virus were not vaccinated.

Full vaccination against COVID-19 is essential to help end the current pandemic, but it’s also important to prevent serious illness overall to reduce the chance of developing sepsis. Severe COVID-19 is viral sepsis and being vaccinated against the virus reduces the risk of severe illness and hospitalization.

Three Approved Vaccines in the United States

There are three COVID-19 vaccines that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved for emergency use in the United States: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen. There are several other vaccines in the testing phase or approved for use elsewhere, including AstraZenica/Covishield, which is available in Canada and the United Kingdom, among other countries.

mRNA Vaccines – Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech

Pfizer and Moderna produced vaccines using a previously unknown technology, mRNA. RNA (ribonucleic acid) is a molecule that sends information and instructions to the body’s cells. mRNA stands for messenger RNA. Most people in the U.S. have received live vaccines at some point. These vaccines use a weakened germ to provide protection against diseases like measles and chickenpox. mRNA vaccines are different. They contain information for your cells on how to counteract a targeted virus. They don’t contain the actual germ, either dead or weakened.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “mRNA vaccines contain material from the virus that causes COVID-19 that gives our cells instructions for how to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. After our cells make copies of the protein, they destroy the genetic material from the vaccine. Our bodies recognize that the protein should not be there and build T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 if we are infected in the future.”

It takes two doses of these COVID-19 vaccines, spaced weeks apart, for the full effect..

Myths about mRNA Vaccines

mRNA vaccines do not have the ability to change anything within the human body, other than giving it the power to destroy the virus. Misinformation about other supposed effects of mRNA vaccines exists though.

Myth 1

One myth is that they can change the human DNA. DNA is your body’s code or recipe of hereditary information, such as the color of your eyes and how tall you will be. RNA carries code to cells. It cannot change the DNA.

Myth 2

Another myth is that mRNA vaccines can affect fertility. This myth began when someone incorrectly posted on social media that the spike protein of the coronavirus was the same as one involved in keeping the placenta healthy. They are not the same, however. Anyone who plans on becoming pregnant is encouraged to get a COVID-19 vaccine. COVID during pregnancy could put both parent and baby in danger. One Pfizer study included a small group of women who became pregnant after receiving their vaccine. One woman did lose her baby, but she was in the placebo group that did not receive the vaccine. If you are pregnant or suspect you are, speak with your healthcare provider about the vaccine.

Myth 3

The third important myth is that mRNA vaccines were rushed through the process. It is true that decades ago, it took years to produce and move vaccines through clinical trials. But now, researchers build on the body of knowledge assembled over time, eliminating much of the baseline research work. In addition, much of the time lag in vaccine production rests with paperwork and in researchers keeping their findings secret, so as not to be scooped by others. For COVID-19, there was an unprecedented, coordinated effort around the world, with researchers sharing their findings and decision makers eliminating or limiting the mountains of paperwork this type of research usually entails.

As for the speed of the mRNA discovery, it wasn’t as fast as it appears. In the 1980s, Katalin Karikó, PhD, a researcher originally from Hungary, had an idea about using mRNA to help prevent or fight illness. For years, her experiments were not successful. But in 1998, she partnered with another researcher to work on vaccines based on the mRNA process. The researchers patented their idea, but the mRNA process seemed like a cure or vaccine waiting for a use. That use came to be in 2020 in the fight against COVID-19. So, the technology and knowledge of mRNA was decades old despite how it seems.

Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine Is Different

The Johnson & Johnson (J&J) one-dose COVID-19 vaccine is different from the mRNA vaccines. This vaccine is more traditional in that it uses a disabled adenovirus. This virus is similar to but not the same as the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The J&J vaccine uses the disabled adenovirus to do the same thing as the mRNA: to deliver instructions to the cells, telling them how to fight the virus. Vaccines made of disabled viruses cannot make the recipient sick.

There is some debate as to whether this vaccine is as effective as the mRNA ones, but the experts agree that it is very effective in preventing serious illness. It also has two advantages over the mRNA vaccines:

  • Storage is easier because it doesn’t need the deep cold storage mRNA vaccines require. This makes the vaccine more portable for people in remote or difficult to reach regions.
  • One-dose regimen makes it easier to get to higher risk populations that may not return for a second dose.

COVID-19 Vaccine Effectiveness

It is important to understand that the vaccines may not prevent someone from getting the virus. They can significantly reduce how serious the COVID-19 infection is and the complications that can occur though. It’s hard to compare the effectiveness of the J&J vaccines to the mRNA vaccines because of how the clinical tests were performed, but all three are very effective in preventing serious illness to people who do contract the virus.

Experts don’t know if someone who has received a COVID-19 vaccine can spread the virus. As a result, they recommend anyone who has the virus, vaccinated or not, maintain self-isolation.

COVID-19 is a viral respiratory infection that can trigger viral sepsis. To learn more about COVID-19 and sepsis, visit the Sepsis Alliance COVID-19 Resource Page.

If you do become ill with COVID-19, watch for signs of sepsis. If you suspect you are becoming sicker or you are showing signs of sepsis, please seek medical help immediately.