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    COVID Vaccine vs. Flu Vaccine: What to Know

    Oct. 22, 2021 — The COVID and flu vaccines are important, and both are quite effective at preventing serious illness or death. But that’s where much of their similarities end. Here’s the science behind both.

    The methodology

    Two of the three COVID vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) adopted in the United States are mRNA, or messenger RNA. The shots work by delivering molecules of antigen-encoding mRNA into immune cells, triggering an immune response. They represent nearly 20 years of research and are relatively easy to produce.

    For the flu vaccine, scientists harvest the virus in eggs, inactivate it, and then purify the antigen before making it on a wide scale.

    The strains they attack

    One of the biggest differences between the COVID vaccine and the flu vaccine is that the COVID vaccine is effective against all the currently circulating strains of the virus. The flu shot, on the other hand, is designed to handle the strains of flu scientists determine will likely circulate each year.

    How Do COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines Work?Some of the COVID-19 vaccines are known as mRNA shots. How are they different from traditional vaccines? And do they contain the real virus?189

    [MUSIC PLAYING]

    SPEAKER: How does a COVID-19

    mRNA vaccine work?

    COVID vaccines are now

    available.

    Some of the COVID-19 vaccines

    are mRNA vaccines, but what does

    this mean?

    mRNA vaccines are

    different from traditional

    vaccines.

    mRNA vaccines don't expose you

    to any real virus instead,

    they're made with messenger

    Ribonucleic Acid or mRNA.

    This is a type of molecule that

    gives instructions to the cell

    for how to make different kinds

    of proteins.

    mRNA molecules are

    a natural part of our cells

    and how our bodies work.

    Researchers have been working

    with mRNA vaccines

    for many years.

    They are made more easily

    and safely in a lab

    than a vaccine that uses

    a virus.

    Because of this they can also

    be made faster.

    The COVID-19 mRNA vaccines

    have passed many tests in labs

    and in thousands of people,

    and meet strict standards

    from the FDA.

    So how do these vaccines work?

    First, a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine

    is injected into a muscle

    in your upper arm.

    Some muscle cells take the mRNA

    instructions in the vaccine

    and make a harmless piece

    of a protein called

    a spike protein.

    This protein is found

    on the outside of the SARS-CoV-2

    virus that causes COVID-19.

    The muscle cells then destroy

    the instructions for how to make

    the spike protein.

    The mRNA never goes

    into the nucleus of your cells

    where your DNA is stored.

    The newly made spike protein now

    sits on the surface

    of the muscle cells.

    Your immune system senses

    the spike protein

    as a foreign threat to destroy,

    it starts making antibodies

    to fight anything

    with that spike protein on it.

    This will help your body's

    immune system recognize

    and fight the real virus if it

    ever shows up.

    It's like recognizing someone

    by the hat they wear.

    Your body is then

    prepared to spot COVID-19

    and fight it off before it grows

    in your body's cells.

    Fast facts to remember

    about COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.

    They help get your body

    ready to fight off the COVID-19

    virus before it makes you sick,

    they don't use

    any live, dead, or weak virus,

    they can't give you COVID-19,

    they don't affect your DNA.

    Want to learn more,

    go to cdc.gov to find more

    information about mRNA vaccines.

    You can also learn more about

    how the vaccines were approved

    at fda.gov.

    [SWOOSH]

    [MUSIC PLAYING]

    From Krames/delivery/aws/e1/19/e1194689-aff0-4d9e-9fd2-2c0084642589/b37084c0-2e1f-4b66-958c-96e7a6c3f4db_krames_activating_health_how_mrna_vaccine_works_021021_,4500k,2500k,1000k,750k,400k,.mp402/10/2021 12:00:0018001200photo of COVID-19 mRNA vaccine/webmd/consumer_assets/site_images/article_thumbnails/video/1800x1200_krames_activating_health_how_mrna_vaccine_works_video.jpg091e9c5e8210a400

    But given that last year’s flu season was very mild because of masking and distancing, there’s concern the 2021-22 season could be severe.

    “This year, the shot is quadrivalent, which means it is designed to protect against four strains,” says Rachael Lee, MD, an infectious disease specialist and assistant professor in the University of Alabama’s Division of Infectious Diseases. “Other years, it will be trivalent.”

    Side effects

    Both the flu and COVID vaccines can produce side effects, but the immune response to the COVID vaccine tends to be a bit harder on the body. In either case, side effects include symptoms of the diseases, like achy muscles, soreness where you get the shot, mild fevers, headaches, and sometimes a very mild cough. Symptomatic effects from both shots generally don’t last longer than24 hours.

    How long they protect you

    While researchers are still learning about how long the COVID vaccines are effective, the general thinking is that they offer protection longer than the flu shot, according to Jill Ferdinands, PhD, an epidemiologist in the Influenza Division of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC. Research suggests that within a few months of receiving the flu shot, immunity begins to wane.

    But in the near future, scientists may create flu shots using mRNA technology, bringing them on par with the COVID shots’ effectiveness. In the meantime, the most important thing to know is that you should get them both.

    “The data shows that your symptoms will be much milder if you get these vaccines,” says Lee. “If you get vaccinated, it will help with public health efforts.”

    This is particularly true this year, when hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID patients and experts predict the flu might make a strong return.

    “Our hospitals have now learned how to manage pandemic surges,” says Lee, “but we want to prevent that going forward. The vaccines are the tools to do that.”

    Sources

    Rachael Lee, MD, infectious disease specialist, University of Alabama Medicine, Birmingham; assistant professor of infectious diseases, University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    Jill Ferdinands, PhD, epidemiologist, Influenza Division, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, CDC.

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