COVID-19 vaccines: Changing the course of the pandemic

Health and wellness

Wearing masks and physical distancing will help reduce the chance of being exposed to COVID-19 or spreading the virus, but that alone is not enough. COVID-19 vaccines, along with nonpharmaceutical interventions, are the best hope for ending the pandemic.

Coronavirus is a type of common virus that can cause illnesses such as the common cold, severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome.

Shortly after a December 2019 outbreak in China, the World Health Organization identified SARS-CoV-2 as a new coronavirus type. The disease it causes is called COVID-19.

Last March, WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. COVID-19 is a disease that can trigger a respiratory tract infection. It can affect your upper-respiratory (sinuses, nose and throat) or lower-respiratory tract (windpipe and lungs).

The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily among people by respiratory droplets released when someone with the virus coughs, sneezes, breathes, sings or talks. Some infected people don’t have symptoms, but they can still spread the virus.

Although most individuals with COVID-19 have mild-to-moderate symptoms, the disease can cause severe medical complications and lead to death in some people. Older adults or people with existing chronic medical conditions are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.

There is no way to know how COVID-19 will affect you.

In December, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna both reported that after late-stage trials, their vaccines showed about 95% efficacy at preventing severe COVID-19 symptoms. The Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency-use authorization for the two vaccines, which both contain a genetic material called messenger RNA (mRNA) that does not change or interact with your DNA in any way.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has protein spikes on each viral particle. These spikes help the viruses attach to cells in your body and cause disease.

COVID-19 mRNA vaccines give some of your cells instructions for how to make the virus’s distinct spike protein, which does not cause the disease. Once a person receives (and completes a two-dose series) with either vaccine, those cells will replicate the spike protein and display the proteins on their surfaces.

Your immune system will recognize the protein doesn’t belong there and begin building an immune response and making antibodies. If you are exposed to COVID-19 in the future, your immune system will recognize the spike protein and have the antibodies readily available to rapidly destroy the virus.

Published data shows the vaccine reduces the risk for serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 disease.

If the COVID-19 vaccine behaves like other vaccines, then it may help:

· Protect you by creating an antibody (immune system) response without having to experience sickness

· Prevent you from spreading the COVID-19 virus to others

· Add to the number of people in the community protected from getting COVID-19, making it harder for the disease to spread and contributing to herd immunity

· Prevent the COVID-19 virus from spreading and replicating, which allows it to mutate and possibly become more resistant to vaccines

As more people get the vaccine and data gathering continues, more will be known about these benefits and the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Department of Defense has an independent but collaborative program with the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide COVID-19 vaccines to service members. This includes active duty, Guard/Reserve, retirees, family members, civilian personnel and selected Department of Defense contractors.

Getting the vaccine is voluntary, but all DOD personnel are encouraged to get it to protect their health, families and community.

Military hospitals and clinics around the nation may be in different phases of vaccine administration, so contacting your local medical facility, or TRICARE, is the best way to know when they are ready for you to get it. If you have questions about what phase you’re in, contact your chain of command.