The COVID-19 pandemic is causing everyone to think about how vaccines work, what vaccines do, and a range of other vaccine-related issues. For many, this information is brand new, as are the processes being used to create the vaccines. Most vaccines require years before the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) will approve them. New science, such as messenger RNA (mRNA), is just one of the exciting new genetic developments in making vaccines that help save lives.
Vaccines essentially stimulate a persons’ immune system so that the body can produce antibodies to combat and protect the person from the disease. The Washington Post recently discussed some of the new terms that should be of interest to everyone. Today, we take a look at just a few of them.
Antibodies vs. antigens
According to the CDC, antibodies are proteins created by the immune system shortly after your vaccination or if you become infected. Antibodies help your body fight the infection and ideally prevent you from getting the disease. How long the antibodies provide protection varies, depending on the disease and on the person. Over time, antibody protection may provide less immunity or a different level of immunity.
Antigens are foreign objects, such as the COVID-19 virus or bacteria, that invade your body. Antigens can cause disease. The antigens, like the vaccines, can cause your immune system to create antibodies to fight the virus or bacteria.
Efficacy vs. effectiveness
According to a recent COVID-19 discussion, “efficacy reflects how well the vaccine works in a controlled setting like a clinical trial, while effectiveness is what happens in the real world.”
When it’s reported that Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has 95 percent efficacy, that means the vaccine was “95 percent effective at preventing symptoms of covid-19 in trials.” Clinical trials are an indicator of what happened in the real world – but it’s usual for the efficacy of the vaccines to be lower in the real world (the general population) – according to the medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
An individual’s personal risk of contracting a disease depends on many factors such as the type and extent of the exposure, the person’s other medical conditions, and the person’s immune system. For example, older adults generally have a weaker immune system than younger adults.
Currently, health professionals are encouraging everyone to prioritize getting vaccinated without worrying about the efficacy. The FDA has already worried about the efficacy because it granted emergency use authorization.
Infection vs. disease
According to the Mayo Clinic, “infection occurs when viruses, bacteria or other disease-causing pathogens enter your body and start replicating.” When the body’s cells are damaged due to the infection, the infection then causes a disease. Not everyone who is infected will develop a disease. Generally, if a person develops a disease, they will experience symptoms. People who are infected but don’t develop the disease are “asymptomatic.”