Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Jake. Jake Wonders, “Does the covid vaccine work? How did it start?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Jake!

Over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, people around the world are finally rolling up their sleeves for doses of the long-awaited vaccine. Still, many kids and adults alike have questions. What do the vaccines do? How well do they really work? And are they safe?

Many doctors and experts have worked hard to make a vaccine that would protect against COVID-19. One leader of this effort is Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett of the National Institutes of Health. Faced with the task, she expressed that the pressure was on: “A lot of people are banking on us.” She went on to explain that many people hoped the vaccine would be “part of the answer this world needs.”

You may have learned about vaccines in school or on Wonderopolis before. Most often, they work by injecting a person with a weakened form of a germ. The earliest COVID-19 vaccines in use, including the one made by Dr. Corbett and her team, work a bit differently. They use messenger RNA (mRNA) to give our cells a set of directions. These directions teach our cells to create the spike protein found on the surface of the novel coronavirus.

Once our cells have these directions, they can build the spike protein. The immune system recognizes the protein doesn’t belong. Then, it starts making antibodies. If you later come into contact with COVID-19, your body will already know how to fight off the infection thanks to this process.

Of course, mRNA vaccines are just one type being made. Others include vector and protein subunit vaccines. The vector vaccines inject a weakened form of a virus (not COVID-19) to help our bodies build up immunity. Protein subunits are small, harmless pieces of the novel coronavirus that do the same.

Vaccines are just one tool people have to fight COVID-19. Others include handwashing, social distancing, and contact tracing. However, experts say that getting the vaccine is very important. They urge people who haven’t experienced an allergic reaction to other vaccines to get the shots when they can.

Still, many myths and misunderstandings about the COVID-19 vaccines exist. One is that the vaccines aren’t safe because they were developed so quickly. This is untrue. The vaccines went through a long testing process before being put into use. While this is the first time mRNA has been widely used in public vaccines, the strategy has been developed over the past several decades.

Another myth is that the vaccines will cause a person to become sick with COVID-19. This is false. Instead, the vaccines teach your body to fight off infection. Many people do experience symptoms like headaches and fatigue after receiving the shots. However, these are not due to COVID-19 infection from the vaccination. Experts also agree that the vaccines can increase immunity even if you’ve already had the virus.

Most people survive COVID-19. However, millions of others around the world haven’t. The impact has been even more severe among people of color—especially in Black and Indigenous communities. Many survivors will tell you this virus is no fun to have. 

Dr. Corbett and many other experts have worked hard to make the COVID-19 vaccines safe for use. However, kids’ immune systems are quite a bit different from adults’. A vaccine may not be ready for those under the age of 16 until late 2021.  If you’re unsure whether a vaccine is right for you, talk with a trusted adult or doctor about your options.

Standards: CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2

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