How Do Vaccines (Including the COVID-19 Vaccines) Work?: Watch Animated Introductions

The oth­er day, I found myself read­ing about what life is like in coun­tries that have suc­cess­ful­ly min­i­mized the pan­dem­ic: wor­ry free hol­i­days, meet­ing friends and fam­i­ly with­out the dan­ger of infec­tion, a gen­er­al air of nor­mal­cy thanks to a com­bi­na­tion of rig­or­ous pub­lic health efforts and pub­lic coop­er­a­tion. I live in the U.S., where the polit­i­cal par­ty cur­rent­ly in pow­er (and des­per­ate to keep it) con­vinced mil­lions of my fel­low cit­i­zens that the virus was a hoax, a scam, a polit­i­cal ploy. The real­i­ty of a virus-free exis­tence seems like a fairy tale.

But per­haps, after a year of death, suf­fer­ing, and luna­cy, we will begin to see the tide turn once enough peo­ple get vac­ci­nat­ed…  if we can over­come the mas­sive wave of anti-sci­ence bias and dis­in­for­ma­tion about vac­cines…. “The anti-vac­ci­na­tion move­ment is going to make Covid-19 more dif­fi­cult to get under con­trol,” says Scott Ratzan, dis­tin­guished lec­tur­er at the CUNY Grad­u­ate School of Pub­lic Health and Health Pol­i­cy.

Long before the vac­cine arrived, Kather­ine O’Brien, a direc­tor at WHO, not­ed there was already a promi­nent “anti-vac­ci­na­tion voice” on social media. “We have to take this seri­ous­ly,” she told The BMJ. “Vac­ci­na­tion isn’t just an indi­vid­ual choice; it pro­tects those who can’t be vac­ci­nat­ed.” We’ve seen the term “herd immu­ni­ty”  mis­used a lot late­ly. What it essen­tial­ly means is that a small num­ber of peo­ple can be shield­ed from the virus if the vast major­i­ty get vac­ci­nat­ed. Or as WHO puts it, “herd immu­ni­ty is achieved by pro­tect­ing peo­ple from a virus, not by expos­ing them to it.”

All of this means there will like­ly nev­er be a more crit­i­cal moment to edu­cate our­selves and oth­ers on the sci­ence of vac­cines. We may not sway those faith­ful to a cer­tain nar­ra­tive, but it can help shift the con­ver­sa­tion from fears of the unknown to the long his­to­ry of the known when it comes to erad­i­cat­ing high­ly infec­tious, dead­ly dis­eases. A great way to start is with the basics, which you’ll find in the videos above from TED-Ed, Mech­a­nisms of Med­i­cine, and PBS. Watch them your­self, share them on social media, and keep the con­ver­sa­tion about vac­cines’ effi­ca­cy going.

In the TED-Ed les­son just above, we learn some more spe­cif­ic infor­ma­tion about the key phas­es of devel­op­ing a new vac­cine: explorato­ry research, clin­i­cal test­ing, and man­u­fac­tur­ing. You’ll find much more detailed infor­ma­tion on the his­to­ry of vac­cines, spu­ri­ous anti-vac­ci­na­tion claims, and the coro­n­avirus vac­cines now on the mar­ket and cur­rent­ly ship­ping around the world, at the award-win­ning site, The His­to­ry of Vac­cines, from the Col­lege of Physi­cians of Philadel­phia.

The COVID-19 vac­cine is a spe­cial kind of vac­cine (mRNA) that works dif­fer­ent­ly from most, and you can learn about how it works here. A quick primer on herd immu­ni­ty appears at the bot­tom.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

What Does the Unit­ed States’ Coro­n­avirus Response Look Like Abroad?: Watch the Rest of the World Stare Aghast at Our Han­dling of COVID-19

Inter­ac­tive Web Site Tracks the Glob­al Spread of the Coro­n­avirus: Cre­at­ed and Sup­port­ed by Johns Hop­kins

19th Cen­tu­ry Maps Visu­al­ize Measles in Amer­i­ca Before the Mir­a­cle of Vac­cines

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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