Stealth agents, special agents: A lighter look at how COVID vaccines work

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As an ICU nurse, I’ve watched far too many die from COVID in the past year. I’m also painfully aware of the horrific atrocities historically inflicted on minority and marginalized humans in the name of ‘science.’ I understand the reluctance of some to accept the vaccine. We do have so much work to do in science and in society to repair and heal our communities. It’s my hope that this vaccine — and my fun little column below — is part of that process.” — author Heather Fudala

When you got your first vaccine shot, the mRNA in that vaccine — whether it’s Moderna or Pfizer — stealthily infiltrated certain cells, like a Trojan horse (more on Johnson & Johnson later). This wolf in sheep’s clothing, cloaked in a lipid disguise, was well-camouflaged, and duplicitous. It was so well-disguised, the other cells thought “Hey, this guy is one of us!” They let it pass, unchecked, inside.

Once inside the cell, the mRNA at first appeared legitimate, as though it had a right to be there. So my cells’ little ribosomes worked hard, blindly replicating the Trojan vaccine mRNA blueprint.

They churned out many, many SARS-CoV-2 (aka COVID) spike proteins — just what the COVID virus needs to enter our cells and make us sick. The vaccine actually triggers only that small but important part of the COVID virus, and not the part that actually makes you sick.

After they worked so hard to follow the mRNA blueprint that had been stealthily delivered by the Trojan vaccine, my cells were bigly proud of how great the new proteins were. So they stuck some of those spike proteins out on the edges, waving them around as if to say, “Hey, look at this great thing we made!”

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Joe Lowery of East Moline was among dozens at the Camden Centre mass vaccination clinic in Milan March 13. “People are dying, and if getting this vaccination will help that stop, I’m more than willing to do that.” The clinic is open six days a week. Click here to watch for opportunities to book appointments.

The rest of my body looked at those spike proteins, the ones that some of those tricked cells had made. It said, “Wait a minute … you’ve been hoodwinked!” It knew those spike proteins didn’t belong.

That’s when my immune system’s special agents, a group of diverse immune cells, got called in. They looked at these new, rogue proteins, consulted one another, and determined, “Hell no! They’ve got to go!” The special agents directed all body-national resources to unite and evict the rogue protein and its buddies from my body.

Part of this eviction process includes making antibodies to the COVID spike proteins. Why? Because my body as a whole is very smart. It doesn’t want to be hoodwinked again, by the same invader, in the future. It wants to remember what happened, so that history cannot repeat itself. So it keeps some special agents around on high surveillance and at the ready, to pounce on the rogue proteins when it sees them again.

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Volunteers are helping the Rock Island County Health Department and the National Guard run the mass vaccination clinic at Camden Centre in Milan, Ill.

Isn’t that cool? We engineered a vaccine that uses our body’s own machinery to make the best antibodies to protect against COVID. #YayScience! But I digress…

For those who received Johnson & Johnson, the same process above happens — only with an adenovirus delivering the stealth instructions. And with just one shot. For the rest of us — Moderna and Pfizer, right now — enter the second vaccine dose.

When those nasty spike proteins showed up a second time, my body’s special agents were ready this time, “We don’t even need to convene this time; we already know they don’t belong in here!”

They immediately began to keep the bad protein away, so it can’t cause additional damage.

My body is so smart that the second time around, it pulls out all the stops to reject the rogue proteins. For me, and for many others, this caused fever, chills, body aches, and headache. If your body responds this way, too, remember it’s good news! it means the vaccine did its job — and that my body is now ready to eliminate the COVID virus if it should see it. Now and forever more, my body will be well-prepared for COVID.

As a health care worker, I’m so grateful for this vaccine. But I also understand why some might be reluctant to accept it. I fully support everyone’s right to choose what medical interventions they want for themselves because even as a nurse and a scientist, I’m a human first. 

On the other hand, without a COVID vaccination … a body has nothing to remember when it needs to fight COVID. It will be easy prey for the real wolf.

This is why I’m sharing what started as a fun Facebook post, in this column here. I’m so thrilled and grateful we have a vaccine, so that I, my family and my community can finally protect ourselves. I hope this piece helps explain how the COVID vaccine works, and helps those who are hesitant to receive the vaccine look at it in a different way!

(cover photo features to left, author Fudala receiving her vaccine, and to right, a member of the Visiting Nurse Association providing a vaccination to a Rock Island man on March 13th).

Heather Fudala
Heather Fudala is Ph.D. candidate, “nurse scientist” and mom based in Richmond, Va.

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