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DUMMY, you never say what you think on the internet

The times we live in can make discussion difficult. So much of what we see in the news every day is inflammatory and negative emotion stalks the land. I recently wrote about the importance of getting the COVID vaccine and I was not kind in my view of people who advise others not to be vaccinated. I got a bit of criticism for expressing my opinion. Knowledge can sometimes get past emotional responses so fair warning. I'm going to teach a small class here in how this virus and the vaccine really work. Stay with me, it is a really interesting story and matters to your health.
We have all seen these picture of the coronavirus with all the spikes sticking out of the surface. Interesting as an art project but that image only hints at what is going on. In this explanation we are going to dive into what really happens. Don't worry, life is infinitely complex but you can understand this.

Lets look first at those spike proteins. Calling them spikes makes a headline that editors like but they are really more like ugly little mushrooms.

The mushroom is actually made of very long strings of molecules that fold up and wrap around each other. The way these strings work is that they have a shape and at each molecule their electrons are either available to interact or they are not. Think of a wad of spaghetti where some noodles stick together and others don't. In simple terms, for the structure to form, the shapes must match and electrical charges must be complementary. The image above is a better depiction of what that spike protein is actually like. It is very untidy.

The other part of the puzzle is what we call the ACE2 receptor. We call it a receptor because it sticks out of our cells, again rather like a mushroom and is very important as it interacts with our blood supply that is flowing by the cell. In the case of ACE2, it primarily helps regulate our blood pressure so it is very important to us. While there has been much discussion of viral infection in gut and lung cells, a variety of potential target cells also produce ACE2 receptor and are scattered throughout the body, including the liver.
When you look at pictures like this the colors indicate areas that have different chemical properties. Even though these molecules stick together as a unit the parts do different things in the body's chemistry.

As it turns out, the coronavirus spike has an area on it that matches a part of the ACE2 receptor. That is to say that its shape matches and the electrical characteristics of its surface complete each other so the two structures are able to bind together if they happen to touch as the virus moves along with the blood.
It isn't necessarily a large area but it can have a strong connection which tethers the virus to the human cell and you have a tiny virus moored to the larger human cell like a boat to a dock.
That connection distorts the ACE2 structure in a way that it lets another part of the spike connect with the surface of the cell and with a little time it penetrates through the cell wall and goes on to infect the cell. The details get complex but conceptually that is what we want to prevent with a vaccine.

There are a lot different types of antibodies and several ways to try to defeat a virus. Historically we have used dead virus, weakened live virus, pieces of virus, and so on to try to trick the body into thinking it had been infected and to mount a defense. That didn't always go exactly as planned and the immune system is vastly complex so there was wide variation at times. Things like that have led to some vaccine anxiety.

In the case of the coronavirus we are using a different method called mRNA. This has become possible because we have mastered genetic analysis and we now know how to read and sequence these complex molecules. We can literally manufacture any of these protein chains that we want.

There are multiple parts to the coronavirus and if you can get the immune system to view any of them as a danger it can mount a defense and make antibodies to specifically attack that part. Vaccine manufacturers may choose to disrupt different parts of the viral proteins as its several parts all have to work for the virus to successfully infect a cell, but one of the most obvious targets would be that small patch where the connection to the cell actually happens.
If we could sensitize the immune system to that tiny patch on the virus we could prevent it from being able to attach to the cell. The mRNA process creates an artificial antibody that targets specific functions. We are hunting the virus with a rifle shooting at an identified target rather than using a machine gun hoping that we can hit something, as we have done with older methods using the virus itself.

It was the very targeted nature of the process which made it possible to bring a vaccine forward in months rather than years. The speed is properly viewed as a modern miracle of science and not the grave concern expressed by some. You need to understand that the issue of safety focused on a tiny molecule rather than the complex soup we had to study with older methods.

Is it possible for someone to have a bad reaction to this. Of course, human biochemistry is infinitely complex and perfect will never be possible. However, it is possible to drive that risk to very low levels which is the case here. These are probably the safest vaccines we have ever made because of their simplicity. Our biggest concern is will they last? Are they too simple to give long term immunity?

There are unknowns with this or any substance we take into our bodies. Your salad has chemicals that we have no idea what they really do. There is no reason to fear this particular technology as it is being applied to this virus. We have to get past fears from the past and be amazed and grateful that we have this opportunity to defeat this virus.
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