The Covid-19 pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 has emerged as a global health crisis and has impacted the lives of everyone across the globe in many ways. Statistics show that over 120 million people across the world have been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus with nearly 30 million cases in the United States. People with chronic respiratory conditions, including those with Pulmonary Fibrosis and older adults, have been disproportionately affected. This population may be at a higher risk for serious illness from Covid-19. It is recommended that people in this higher risk category reduce their risk of being exposed to Covid-19. We have previously published articles about what you can do to stay safe and minimize your risk to exposure. We also talked about ways to maintain social distancing and your mental health during the pandemic. 

Are the vaccines safe for people with Pulmonary Fibrosis?

The vaccines have undergone rigorous and efficient testing in clinical trials. They have been demonstrated to be safe and effective in preventing or limiting the development of severe Covid-19 illness and death.  As per the recommendations issued by the centers for disease control and prevention, the benefits of Covid-19 vaccination far outweigh the risks. We do however recommend that you reach out to your pulmonologist or primary care physician to ensure that the vaccine is safe for you. 

It is also important for everyone to continue with safe practices, including using face coverings, hand washing and physical distancing until the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in your community is significantly reduced. 

How do mRNA vaccines work (Pfizer and Moderna)?

The vaccine for Pfizer and Moderna has mRNA (messenger RNA) which codes for a piece of the spike protein found on the virus that causes Covid-19. mRNA is the genetic material that tells your body which protein to make.

  • Once the vaccine is injected into your body, it uses the machinery of your cells to make the spike protein piece. (Note: the mRNA in the vaccine does not carry the code to make the entire virus). 
  • Your cells then display the spike protein piece on their surface. 
  • Your immune cells recognize that this protein piece is a foreign body that does not belong there. 
  • Your immune system begins to build an immune response and makes antibodies to “kill” it. 
  • You will now have antibodies floating around to protect you from the virus in case you do get infected with it. Your body also remembers how to make the antibodies at a future date and can make them more quickly should you get exposed at a later time. 

Important facts about mRNA Covid-19 vaccines:

  • You cannot get Covid-19 from the vaccine: This is because the vaccine does not contain live virus that causes Covid-19
  • They do not affect or interact with your DNA: In fact, the mRNA does not even enter your nucleus which is where your DNA is housed. Also, the cells break down the mRNA once it is done using its instructions.

How does the Johnson & Johnson vaccine work?

  • The vaccine has DNA which codes for the spike protein found on the virus that causes Covid-19. The piece of DNA is inserted into a “carrier” virus which does not make you sick.
  • Once the vaccine is injected into your body, the virus is “eaten” by your cells. 
  • The virus then travels to the nucleus and uses the machinery in your nucleus to make mRNA using the DNA code (Note: the carrier virus cannot make copies of itself).
  • The mRNA then leaves the nucleus and uses the machinery of your cells to make the spike protein.
  • Your cells then display the spike protein piece(s) on their surface. 
  • Your immune cells recognize that this protein piece is a foreign body and your immune system begins to build an immune response as in the case of the mRNA vaccines described above. 
  • Your immune system is also activated by the carrier virus thus enabling it to put up a stronger fight against the spike proteins.

Do vaccines protect against the new variants?

Variants of the SARS-COV-2 virus have emerged in some parts of the world and in the US. Some of these strains are known to spread more easily. This means that if you are exposed to this variant, your vaccination may not be as effective at preventing infection. Research is being done to fully understand the impact of the variants.

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