What You Need to Know-Week of January 4th

The most important weekly updates for you to keep your community healthy




In this Update:

1. Information You Need: How mRNA vaccines work

2. Take Caution during COVID-19: Potential Rare Symptoms

3.   Quick Question: Will the COVID-19 vaccine give me COVID?




1. Information You Need: How mRNA vaccines work



With the recent promising news of two mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, many people may be wondering more about how this specific vaccine type works. Messenger RNA vaccines, also commonly called “mRNA vaccines,” are a newer, but well understood way to protect our bodies from infectious diseases. 

Other common vaccines, such as the flu shot, inject dead or inactivated flu virus particles to cause an immune response. Instead, mRNA vaccines inject a harmless piece of protein, specifically a “spike protein,” taken from the virus that then provides instructions for our body to make the protein. Our immune system then identifies it triggering an immune response to destroy it. Once the immune system has seen it once, it recognizes the protein on the actual virus and can produce antibodies and other immune cells quickly to destroy it before it becomes a problem. 

Below are some simplified steps to demonstrate how these mRNA vaccines work.

  1. The mRNA vaccine is given as a shot in the upper arm muscle. 
  2. Muscle cells then use the protein-creating instructions provided by the mRNA to make the piece of protein 
  3. The cell breaks down the mRNA instructions after creating the protein piece
  4. The muscle cell then presents the created protein piece on the cell’s surface
  5. Our body’s immune system notices that this is not a usual protein and it begins to make antibodies to mount an immune response to that specific protein. 
  • This process is similar to what happens when our bodies are actually infected with the COVID-19 virus, but since it is not a whole virus it cannot replicate in the body. Vaccines prevent our bodies from getting ill and experiencing serious health effects of the virus.

This process causes an immune response and in some people can cause fatigue, aches, fever, and other symptoms that are limited. This happens more on the second dose. A second dose is needed to have the vaccine be as effective as possible, up to 95%!. Given the long term consequences of infection with the actual virus (lung damage, blood clots, neurological problems), having limited symptoms for a day or two is much less risky. 

For more information you can watch this video segment by Dr. Bhattacharya on mRNA vaccines, or you can visit this CDC link.



2.  Take Caution during COVID-19: Potential Rare Symptoms

The most common symptoms for COVID-19 include:

  • Fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath (or difficulty breathing), fatigue, muscle or body aches, headaches, new loss of taste of smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. 

More severe symptoms of the virus include:

  • Breathing difficulty, chest pain or pressure, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, and bluish lips or face. 

However, in addition to the more commonly reported symptoms above, healthcare professionals are noticing an increase in reporting for rare symptoms that are not currently on the CDC symptom list. These can include, but are not limited to:

  • More gastrointestinal symptoms: In addition to commonly reported nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, some may experience a loss of appetite.
  • Skin rashes: Increasing reports of skin rashes have been associated with COVID-19 patients. Some individuals have reported a red, patchy rash, while others report hives or a “chickenpox-like” rash mostly affecting the hands and feet. 
  • “COVID Toes”: This is also a rash-like symptom that is being seen more often with COVID-19 cases. “COVID Toes” refers to a noticeable red, purple, or pink discoloration of the tips of the toes. This symptom can occur after the infection has already passed. 
  • Eye-related issues: Enlarged red blood vessels, swollen eyelids, excessive watering of the eyes, increased discharge, and light sensitivity may be associated with COVID-19. 
  • Blood clots: Inflammation and infections are known to increase one’s risk of clotting. However, doctors and studies are seeing a high percentage (potentially 30-40%) of hospitalized COVID-19 patients experiencing blood clots. If you are at risk for blood clotting, be sure to take your blood thinning medication as directed.
  • Delirium: This symptom is almost exclusively seen among the elderly and can be coupled with disorientation and falls, incoherence and speech issues, and severe confusion.
  • Hearing Loss: Some evidence demonstrates that hearing loss or tinnitus is associated with COVID-19, but more research is needed to reach any conclusions.

At this time, more data and scientific evidence is necessary to determine whether or not these symptoms are specific to COVID-19, but it is a good idea to pay attention to any unusual health issues that you are experiencing.  

COVID-19 symptoms usually develop between 2-14 days after exposure. If you are experiencing symptoms, it is a good idea to get tested and if your symptoms are severe, call your doctor.

The University of Arizona is conducting a long-term study to examine the long term effects of the virus, for more information visit this link.


3.  Quick Question: Will the COVID-19 vaccine give me COVID?


No, the vaccine will not give you COVID. When the topic of vaccines comes up, many times people wonder if the vaccine can give them the disease or virus it helps to prevent. This is a major misconception! Many vaccines, like the flu shot, contain dead or inactivated versions that are unable to spread the virus at all. Similarly, none of the COVID-19 vaccines under development within the U.S. are using the live version of the virus. 

  • Instead, these two-dose vaccines work by making our bodies recognize and then fight the virus. So if you feel slightly ill after receiving a vaccine, this is normal! Your immune system is recognizing the intruding virus and is fighting it off, but this is very different from actually having COVID-19. 
  • It also usually takes a few weeks for a vaccine to help create antibodies so your body can build up immunity. So if you do develop COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine, you were exposed before your body was able to develop a certain level of immunity. 
  • And remember, while 95% effectiveness is far better than many of us thought it would be, that still means some few people could still get COVID-19 after being vaccinated. It is critical to continue practicing good prevention habits even if you have been vaccinated. 

We are still learning more about all the ways that these vaccines affect the immune system and our bodies. This is why it is important to stay up to date with the newest vaccine-related information! Side effects experienced during vaccine trials were similar to common side effects seen after receiving a flu shot, such as fever, fatigue and headaches. However, these side effects are minimal compared to the potential long term effects of being infected with the live virus. 




The next update will cover information about mail-in testing. If you would like to learn more about this and other topics related to COVID-19 in Arizona, please complete next week’s AZCOVIDTXT survey that you will receive via text in about a week.

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