Facts about the Covid vaccination–how does it work?

In the history of medicine, it has never taken less than several years to produce a vaccination for any infectious disease.  However, the initial Covid vaccination is already being tested in volunteers and is expected to roll out in December 2020, only one year from the start of the disease.

After Covid was detected in December 2019, the genetic sequence of the virus was rapidly decoded by January 2020, only one month after the infections had started.  The search for a vaccination then began.

So far, a total of $8 billion dollars has been spent on the development of a vaccine, involving 80 companies in 19 countries. 

Vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna both rely on a technology never before used in a commercial vaccine.  The new vaccination utilizes messenger RNA technology.

What is messenger RNA (mRNA)?  Our body has DNA present in every cell.  Our DNA is the “blueprint” for every protein that is created in our body.  Messenger RNA “reads” the blueprint and transcribes new proteins.  This is how our cells typically build, repair, and maintain our body.  After the messenger RNA reads our DNA, a new protein is strung together in our cells using amino acids. 

So how does the vaccine use messenger RNA?  The Covid mRNA vaccine contains the recipe for certain proteins that help the Covid virus infect our cells.  Once the vaccination is injected, the cells use the mRNA as a template to make viral proteins that are similar to the Covid infection.  This triggers our immune system and leads to the production of antibodies against the disease.

Then, when a person gets exposed to Covid, the body now has antibodies that will recognize the proteins from the virus and fight it off, destroying the virus before it can cause illness.

In clinical trials, the mRNA vaccines caused temporary side effects in 80-90% of trial participants, but they were typically mild such as sore arms or feeling poorly for a day or two.  No one in the studies became seriously ill. 

The third major company developing a vaccine is Astra Zeneca.  Astra Zeneca worked with researchers at Oxford to build a vaccine using a type of virus called an adenovirus.  They genetically altered the adenovirus so that it carries a gene for a coronavirus protein, to cause the human body to develop antibodies to Covid. Side effects have included fever, headache, and injection site pain. Recently one study participant had a more severe reaction and the study is on hold.

The vaccines to date have been found to be 90-95% effective in preventing Covid.  So far, almost 90,000 volunteers have received the vaccine.  To produce “herd immunity” and keep our population overall from getting ill, 70% of our population will need to get the vaccine.  Currently 59% of people polled say they plan to be vaccinated.

How many calories does the average person eat on Thanksgiving?

The average American eats 4500 calories and 229 grams of fat on Thanksgiving day.

Here’s the breakdown on some of our favorites:

Bread stuffing, 1 cup – 350 calories

Turkey, 4 slices – 320 calories

Gravy, 1/2 cup – 100 calories

Mashed Potatoes, 1 cup – 237 calories

Green bean casserole, 1 cup – 350 calories

Cranberry Sauce,  1/4 cup – 110 calories

Biscuits, 2 – 340 calories

Sweet potatoes, 1 cup – 285 calories

Pumpkin pie, 1 slide – 320 calories


Can sunlight kill viruses?

Sunlight is a natural disinfectant, and it has been known for years that sunlight can kill germs.   Sunlight is made up of a form of electromagnetic radiation called ultraviolet light (UV light). Interestingly, ultraviolet light has actually been used for years to disinfect objects and to prevent infection.   Ultraviolet light-wave radiation works by damaging the genetic material of germs, to prevent them from replicating.

Now, researchers at the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center have exposed viruses in simulated saliva to UV light (at a strength equivalent to a sunny day), and found that 90% of the viruses including Covid virus were inactivated.  This is only one small study but it is promising.

Scientists are now testing to see if ultraviolet light can be used to sterilize surfaces in elevators, public transportation, hospitals, and other indoor spaces in order to limit the spread of Covid.

Are there risks from ultraviolet light?  Direct UV light can cause skin or eye damage, so it should only be used on surfaces, and not directly on our bodies or around our eyes.

UV light being used to disinfect a hospital room:

hospital room

Why can’t we cure viruses?



Why can’t viruses, such as Covid-19, be cured?


We all know that antibiotics cure bacteria, but our immune system is still largely on its own when it comes to viruses.  Antibiotics are no help against the viruses that attack us.


The main reason  for this is that viruses are not technically alive!   Instead, they depend on our body’s cells in order to reproduce.  Viruses have to have a host to reproduce; they can’t survive on their own.  So scientists can’t use any agent to fight the virus that would hurt our own cells, where the viruses are hiding out.


Sometimes enzymes on the viruses can be targeted, which is how antiviral drugs work against HIV for example.  But even then, the drugs don’t cure the virus, they just keep it under control.


Another reason that viruses are hard to treat is that there are many different types of viruses and they are not related to each other.  Different viruses cause a huge range of diseases, such as common colds, chicken pox, SARS, Ebola, hepatitis, and Covid. Some of their genetic codes use RNA, others use DNA; some are surrounded by a protective envelope, others are not.


Bacteria on the other hand are all related to each other, and have common features such as having a cell wall.  So it is easier to make antibiotics to fight them.


When a virus infects our body, each cell becomes a virus factory, with the virus taking over and replicating within the cell.  Eventually the cell burst, releasing thousands of new viruses which then go on to infect other cells.  Our body’s defense is to make antibodies to fight the disease.   Our antibodies bind to the virus and then our white blood cells can destroy them.


Scientists have had many more years of experience in treating bacterial infections compared to viral infections.  Bacteria were first seen under a microscope in 1683.  But viruses were not discovered until 200 years later!  We have only had antiviral drugs for the last few decades.


And the antiviral drugs we have do not always help.  For example the medication for the Influenza A, Tamiflu, can help shorten the duration of the symptoms, but only if given early.  It does not cure the disease.  Scientists have made great strides in developing anti-viral medications, such as for hepatitis and HIV, but there is still a long ways in finding effective treatments for most viral infections.

Antibodies (blue) attacking a virus (green):

virus ab


How far does a sneeze go?

When we sneeze or cough, we are actually spraying out a cloud of mucous and saliva to the area around us.

We all know to cover our nose and mouth when we sneeze or cough, but if someone else sneezes or coughs you should probably consider backing away, because the spray can spread further and faster than you would think!

The average sneeze or cough sends about 100,000 contagious germs into the air at speeds up to 100 miles per hour.

Researchers have found that he most critical time for spread of those germs is in the first few minutes after the sneeze or cough occurs.

The average cough can travel over 19 feet, and the average sneeze can travel up to 26 feet!

Sneeze cam:


Motherhood health facts

For Mother’s Day, here are some facts on motherhood:

  • Less than 5% of babies are born on their due date.
  • Babies born in May are the heaviest.
  • The heaviest baby ever born weighed 22 pounds 8 ounces and was born in Italy.
  • When a woman is pregnant, the amount of blood in her body increases by 50%.
  • The average length of labor is 6 1/2 hours.
  • Pain medication during childbirth was not accepted until Queen Victoria inhaled chloroform during the birth of her eight child, Prince Leopold in 1853.
  • The average baby goes through 3360 diapers their first year.
  • In the first year after birth, the average parent is deprived of 663 hours of sleep.


Why don’t babies shiver?

When children and adults are cold, they shiver as a way to create heat.  Shivering causes muscle contraction, which in turn, creates warmth.

But did you know that babies don’t shiver?

The reason that babies don’t shiver is that they have a special type of fat (adipose) tissue, called “brown fat”.  Brown fat burns more calories than adult fat (which is whitish yellow in color) and releases more heat.  Babies have brown fat around their necks, chests, back and butt, and the brown fat acts like a warm coat to keep them warm.

Of course the brown fat is not enough to keep babies warm in the cold, and they still need to be bundled up.

A recent study with PET scans found that some adults still have brown fat.  Interestingly, these adults tended to be thinner than people without brown fat, probably because the brown fat is burning more calories.


Weird quarantine facts

As the world continues to quarantine due to Covid-19, here are some weird facts that are occurring during the pandemic:

  • Physical exercise has decreased by 48%
  • Sales of pretzels are and potato chips are up 30%
  • Traffic accidents have fallen by as much as 50% since stay-at-home orders went into place.
  • Calls to child abuse hotlines have decreased by 20%.
  • Calls to suicide hotlines have increased as much as 800% in some areas, thought due to social isolation and economic stressors.
  • Calls to Poison Centers are up by 20%,  which is thought to be due to increased use of home cleaning supplies.
  • Visits to the Emergency Department have decreased by up to 50%.  This is thought to be due to concern of getting infected by others during a hospital visit.
  • The rate of heart attacks has decreased by 40% worldwide.
  • Both alcohol and marijuana sales are up by 50%.


Can donating blood make YOU healthier?

In the United States, someone needs a blood transfusion every 2 seconds.  There are 41,000 blood donations needed per day!

What about during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?  The Surgeon General states that blood donations are needed during this time, and that appointments for blood donations should continue.

What about the people who donate blood?  Do they get any benefit?

Studies have shown that blood donors are 88% less likely to have a heart attack!   This is thought to be due to the fact that donating blood decreases the viscosity, or thickness of the blood, and therefore donors are less likely to develop heart blockages.

Blood donors are less likely to be hospitalized, and if they are, they have shorter lengths of hospital stays.

When you donate blood, you get a mini physical, as you get your temperature, pulse, and blood pressure checked.

Blood donations are tested for 13 different diseases, and if anything is positive, the donor will be notified immediately.  Of course, if a person knows they have an infectious disease, they should not donate blood.

Another benefit is that when you donate blood, your  body has to burn calories to produce new blood.  When you donate one pint of blood, you burn 650 calories!

But the most important reason to donate blood is that donating a single time can save up to three lives!


What percentage of people don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom?

After using the bathroom, 10% of people don’t wash their hands at all!

Studies have shown that 15% of men and 7% of women don’t wash their hands after using the toilet.

For those who do wash, 33% don’t use soap.

It’s even worse for school students age 8-17, as researchers found that 89% of children don’t wash their hands.

Because of the lack of hand washing, researchers have found that that the doorknobs of bathrooms harbor such bacteria as streptococcus, staphylococcus, E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter.

So what can you do to prevent infection in a public bathroom?  After washing your hands use a paper towel or tissue to turn the water faucets on and off, and use a paper towel to open the door when you exit.


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