Becoming a Vaccinator: A First-Hand, Behind the Scenes Look (plus a bonus – what to expect after your vaccination)

My husband was recently selected to be a vaccinator for Covid-19. Watch this space! I am excited to document the launch of a historic vaccine in his local medical practice.

It began with an application to the Texas Department of State Health Services. First the basics – are you a licensed physician in Texas? Where is your practice? What is the size of your practice?

Then more details: what kind of refrigeration and freezer equipment is on the premises? How many vials of vaccine can you accommodate? (He’s requested an initial 300 doses)

Both the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines must be transported and stored at very low temperatures. My husband was required to purchase a special device for his refrigerator, a device designed to constantly record the temperature at specific intervals. The data can then be uploaded and analyzed to insure the “cold chain” has not been broken.

He doesn’t know at this point which vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer) will be shipped to him. 

The final step in approval was an agreement to honor the directives:

• Do you agree not to charge patients for the vaccine?

• Do you agree to abide by priority guidelines and to honor the criteria regarding who should be vaccinated first?

Approval was granted Friday, December 4. Stay tuned! 

In just a just matter of weeks, the first publicly offered vaccines will arrive across the U.S. at “warp speed”. 

Understand: a vaccine roll-out is not an instant, get-out-of-jail-free, burn your masks and breathe on your neighbor free-for-all.

But it’s a start.

A wonderful, excellent, science-y start.

What to expect after your vaccination:

Essentially 100% of those vaccinated will have side effects following the jab. For the vast majority of us, that means pain at the injection site, a little swelling, and some redness. 

A few people will have more intense side-effects, including fever, muscle pain, joint pain, headache, and fatigue. Side effects are temporary, usually lasting only a day or two. 

Still, a sore arm and feeling a bit crummy for a day is a small price to pay to rein in an infection that can damage hearts and lungs and is lethal in 2% of diagnosed cases (compare to the seasonal flu at 0.1%). 

Drew Weissman, an immunologist whose research contributed to both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines wants people to be informed: “This is what you need to expect. Take Tylenol and suck it up for a day.”

Side effects are temporary and normal and are an indication that your immune system has shifted into high gear as it prepares to fight a future Covid-19 infection.

Redness, heat, pain, and swelling are signs of inflammation – your body’s natural response to invasion or injury. Think about itchy allergy eyes, a sprained ankle, or even a splinter in your finger. 

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use RNA molecules with the “recipe” for one of the protein spikes on a COVID-19 virus. The RNA enters your muscle cells, and your cells use the “recipe” to churn out spike proteins – perfectly harmless proteins that cannot make you sick. 

Fun fact – the spike proteins are constructed with raw materials found in your own, actual cells. The vaccine delivers the instructions, but the spike proteins are home-grown. 

After the RNA recipe has been used a few times to cook up some spike proteins, the cell breaks down the RNA molecule and destroys it, Mission Impossible-style. 

Your immune system learns to identify and remember the spike proteins and, in the future, will attack anything presenting the proteins (like an actual COVID-19 virus).

Inflammation is the result of this identification and learning process, thus the “side-effects” of a vaccine. 

Both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines require a booster, given either three or four weeks after the first vaccine. Full effectiveness occurs about two weeks after the booster. What is unknown at this point is how long this immunity lasts. 

On the horizon: using similar RNA therapy to trigger the body’s immune response to fight cancer.

What the vaccine does not do:

  • RNA vaccines cannot give you Covid-19. You cannot “shed” viruses to others following vaccination with an RNA vaccine. The vaccines do not contain actual viruses, killed or weakened or in any form.
  • RNA vaccines do not interfere or even encounter your own DNA. 

DNA is in the nucleus of the cell. Protein construction occurs outside the nucleus, in the watery cytoplasm filling the cell. The RNA molecules delivered by the vaccine stay out in the cytoplasm because that’s where the raw materials needed to build the spike protein are found. 

  • What about 20 years from now? What if the vaccine causes some future side effect? Again, an RNA molecule is very short-lived. Your cells destroy the RNA molecules shortly after they are used.

Would you like to find your place in line? Here’s a link for a handy-dandy tool that lets you estimate your place in the vaccine line. 

I, for instance, am in line behind 23.0 million people across the United States.

I’m behind 1.9 million in Texas.

In Denton County, I’m behind 31,800.

If the line in Texas was represented by about 100 people, I’d be standing 24th in line.

I’ll see you in line!

And as You speak

A hundred billion creatures catch your breath

Evolving in pursuit of what You said

If it all reveals Your nature so will I

(Hillsong United So Will I)

Science Cat

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