The COVID-19 pandemic has had a stronghold on the world for over a year. With rising death tolls and lockdown measures cycling in many places, the race to develop a vaccine has been the top priority. When the mRNA vaccines were developed and then made available to many members of the public, including vulnerable populations and frontline workers, many saw it as a light at the end of a year-long tunnel.
Many people are still wary of these new vaccines, though. This is mainly due to misunderstandings of how vaccines work, how they keep the body safe from the virus, and the potential side effects that may occur following their vaccination. So, how do vaccines really work? Here’s what you need to know about them, and how to test for COVID-19 antibodies after receiving the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine or any of the others coming to market.
How do vaccines work?
The immune system is the body’s first line of defense against pathogens such as the COVID-19 virus. When the virus enters the body, the immune response is triggered, and when that happens, the acquired immune system begins to create COVID-specific antibodies (proteins) to help fight off the current infection and be ready if the virus enters the body in the future.
Vaccines contain an inactive or weakened version of a virus known as an antigen. It works similarly to a pathogen invasion in the sense that it triggers an immune response within the body. When the immune system is activated by the antigen, it creates the specific antibodies needed to fight the virus off. These specific antibodies are then within the body, ready to battle it out again if the pathogen does happen to show up. It strengthens the body’s defenses by creating targeted immune cells for the virus itself.
The biological process of the COVID vaccine
The COVID-19 vaccine is an mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) vaccine. It works by giving cells a blueprint of sorts so they can initiate the specific immune response needed. The COVID-19 vaccine contains specific molecules that provide cells in the body the instructions to begin making the COVID spike protein based on the fact that the protein is found on the surface of the virus’s cells.
The vaccine is designed to teach the cells in the body to make the specific protein that will trigger the appropriate immune response by providing them with the instructions (the antigen information) to do so. When that protein is displayed on the surface of a cell, the immune system begins building an immune response because it knows that it doesn’t belong. This process initiates antibody creation specific to COVID-19.
How can you get tested for COVID antibodies?
For a person with a current COVID infection, testing for antibodies may be a pointless endeavor because it takes the body time – roughly one to three weeks – to develop antibodies. Antibody tests are typically used to determine if the infection has ever occurred in someone, not if they are infected at the current time. Getting tested for COVID antibodies can help you figure out if you’ve had the virus and safely fought it off in the past.
To get the test for COVID antibodies, it’s important to choose the right provider. Testing decisions are made by the state or their local health care providers. Infectolab is currently offering an antibody test for those who suspect they may have had COVID-19 in the past. Getting a COVID-19 antibody test following your vaccination is likely a good idea so you can see how well your body is prepared to fight off the infection.
It’s important to remember that having COVID antibodies doesn’t mean a person has the infection currently. If a person gets vaccinated, they may test positive for COVID antibodies without testing positive for the virus itself.
Can you test positive for COVID after getting the vaccine?
Testing positive for COVID after getting the vaccine is entirely possible for a few reasons. Vaccines take anywhere from one to three weeks for the body to begin building up an immunity or the ability to fight off the virus quickly. This means that even if a person has gotten the vaccine, they may test positive for COVID prior to the vaccine taking full effect if they contract it during that time. This can also occur if a person who receives the vaccine was already infected with COVID without exhibiting any symptoms.
The mRNA covid vaccines are also designed to limit the effects of the illness caused by COVID, and not necessarily keep people from catching the virus altogether. The main goal of the vaccine is to prevent illness, not infection. With the heavy circulation of the virus still going strong, it’s also possible to become infected with the virus following vaccination because many people are not yet vaccinated.
Has anyone gotten COVID after getting the vaccine?
There have been multiple reports of people coming down with the virus following vaccination. The vaccine cannot protect 100% of people. The Pfizer vaccine, specifically, was found to be 95% effective against the virus. That leaves 5% of people that may still get sick if they catch COVID-19.
The COVID-19 vaccines are a silver lining in an otherwise scary year. Getting vaccinated is important, not just for your health, but also for the health of those around you.
Featured image by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash