Virus Outbreak Pfizer Vaccine

A bus stop ad for COVID-19 testing is shown outside Pfizer world headquarters in New York on Monday Nov. 9, 2020. Pfizer says an early peek at its vaccine data suggests the shots may be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19, but it doesn't mean a vaccine is imminent. 

"Healthy, normal people don't die from the flu, but with this bugger, [COVID-19], it gets everywhere, including the sensory areas," said Dr. Sandra Gibney. "So, the lungs, the brain, the small intestine, blood vessels, and neurons." 

Gibney, a board-certified internist and emergency room doctor, said novel coronavirus COVID-19 is so scary because of how pervasive it is but, luckily, a vaccination is close to being available for distribution. 

She knows there are some concerned citizens wondering how effective the vaccine will be, how safe it is to take, or wanting to know more about ho its made, and she joined WDEL's Rick Jensen Show Monday to try and quell some of those worries. 

It didn't really matter to Gibney how effective a vaccination might be--though the ones closest to being ready for distribution have shown in the 90 to 95% range--any increase in protection was worth it. 

"If you told me I had a one-in-two chance of not getting the flu, I'd still take the vaccine trying not to get the flu," she said. "And if you told me I was going to die [from COVID-19] potentially, I'd certainly would think about it." 

The current leading vaccinations use a messenger RNA approach, which deliver instructions to your body's immune system to explain to your body how to combat the COVID-19 virus if it ever shows up. She liked it to a chef and a kitchen assistant using a cookbook. It doesn't change what is in your body, rewrite genetic code, or anything like that. It's only providing an ingredient.

"DNA is our cookbook, that's where the recipe is stored, in that cookbook in the library," she said. "Basically, the chef's assistant is the RNA--what we're talking about this vaccine being, that's the chef's assistant. Once that RNA, or the chef's assistant, brings the recipe, then that's injected in the body, and encodes to make a protein. So, let's say, if you will, we're making a cake. We have used a recipe to make that cake. Now the RNA is like an ingredient of the recipe. However, it doesn't change the cookbook recipe that's there."

The temporary introduction of this code provides the body with a game plan for how to defend against it should the virus show up again at a later time. However, the construction of the vaccine is a bit unique. Messenger RNA as a delivery for the vaccine, in particular makes it more unstable than some other available medicines, and introduces the need for cold storage to maintain its stability. 

"That is unique to some of the vaccines. Not all of the vaccines use messenger RNA. Moderna and Pfizer both use messenger RNA-type," Gibney said. "It is so unstable it has to be frozen and that's why delivery for those two is going to be a little bit of an issue because they have to be frozen or that very unstable messenger RNA will break down."

The delivery itself is actually a novel approach to combating a virus. 

"I'm not going to say that RNA vaccines have even been FDA-approved; they haven't," Gibney said. "This is a new and novel technique, but it's probably going to be the most effective and easiest to make a lot of vaccines very quickly."

The messenger RNA model also allows medical professionals to adjust their recipes on the fly, adding or deleting ingredients as necessary depending on how the COVID-19 virus mutates or evolves on its own. 

"This is why the messenger RNA will be very valuable," she said.