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COVID Vaccine: The first bivalent shot!

It’s about time, but the latest COVID vaccine is making its way to the people. Since I work in a hospital, I just got mine! The bivalent version (the newest vaccine and the one I just got) is designed to be effective against some of the newer strains while still protecting against the older ones. To be clear, this doesn’t mean you won’t get COVID, it doesn’t mean you can’t have serious health problems from COVID, and it doesn’t mean you can’t spread COVID. However, it’s incredibly important to keep getting the shot and today I got mine.

So wait, what’s the point? I’m sure some of you are confused. If you can still get COVID, it doesn’t prevent the spread, and it can still lead to serious health issues, why bother? Right? Well that’s actually easy to answer.

The vaccine just trains your immune system, which improves your odds of having little or no symptoms if you got infected. Imagine your immune system is a sports team, you’re teaching it how the other team plays, what it looks like, and it’s favorite moves. That way, if and when the big game comes, your immune system is ready to rock.

But like any sports team, training as hard as you can doesn’t guarantee a win. If it did, there wouldn’t be a point to sports. Training just improves your odds, which is what we want and need. We need the odds in our favor and the COVID vaccine does a great job at giving us the best chance at having little or no reaction to COVID because our immune system wipes the floor with it before it becomes serious.

Remember as of this writing there’s still roughly 500 deaths here in the US a day (A SINGLE DAY) from COVID. That’s roughly a 9/11 loss of life each and every week. We’ve lost more people to COVID than some city populations. COVID is one of the top killers here in the US and our life expectancy has significantly dropped because of it.

But death isn’t the only metric. In fact, we should really be looking at the disabling rate of COVID, which isn’t as clear cut a number, but most estimates put it at significantly higher than the death rate. The vaccine does a great job at cutting the risk there as well. Remember nothing is going to lower the risk to zero. The only way to cut the risk to zero is to not get COVID, so regular reminder to mask up to help prevent the spread.

Now, what the heck is a bivalent vaccine?

Put simply it means you’ve got two things inside. In this case, half of it is the mRNA for the “old” strains, the other half is for the BA.4 and BA.5 lineages of the omicron variant, which both have had a high Ro rate (rate of transmission) and are most likely to become the dominant strains. That’s a problem because the original vaccine doesn’t offer the same level of protection. Put simply the COVID team had some new moves that the old vaccine didn’t teach your immune system to deal with.

The great thing about mRNA vaccines is how quickly they can be updated. This latest version took far too long to produce, but it’s here, so that’s something at least. Since we’re talking about the vaccine again and I’ve covered basically all the new stuff, let’s talk about mRNA really quick since I’m sure people are rusty at this point.

mRNA is messenger RNA, it cannot and does not change your DNA, it doesn’t interact with your DNA, and has nothing to do with your DNA. the purpose of mRNA is to produce proteins, it’s a message to whatever random ribosome is floating around near it. The ribosome reads the message and starts producing whatever protein the message tells it to produce. In this case, it’s producing the spike protein found on the surface of the COVID virus. It doesn’t (and cannot) produce the full COVID virus, so these spike proteins just float around and activate your immune system. This is how we “train” the immune system to be ready for the real deal.

Scientists selected the spike protein because that is the key to your cell, it’s how the virus breaks in and causes your cells to produce copies of the virus. Since it’s so important to the virus scientists thought it would be conserved across mutations, which it has… for the most part. There have been several change to it, refining the spike to give the virus a better chance at breaking into the cell, like a thief getting better at lockpicking, COVID has gotten better at entering cells. The small changes mean your immune system still recognizes it, but only just. It’s not exactly the same virus, but it’s close, so the immune system still does a better job, but we’re always looking for the advantage.

Thus the bivalent version, which gives your immune system a reminder of what the old stuff looked like, plus showing your immune system what new things COVID has learned over the past few years. As before, it doesn’t mean you cannot get COVID, it doesn’t mean you can’t spread COVID, and it doesn’t mean you cannot get very sick because of COVID. However, no vaccine has ever worked that way.

Currently it’s been roughly 10 hours since I got the latest version and compared to the first shot this one has been simple. I’ve got some minor muscle soreness, but that’s any vaccine really (you are being stabbed with a needle, some soreness is expected). I haven’t had any side effects, nor have I had any to the original vaccine and boosters (x4 due to the whole cancer thing). So basically everything that I’ve come to expect from a vaccine.

The second COVID vaccine caused a serious immune response. I felt like death for about 24 hours after the second dose. I’m curious to find out if that can be correlated to complications due to COVID or not, but I haven’t seen any evidence one way or the other. Frankly it just tells me that I had what we would call a “robust” immune response. Mild fever, chills, aches, pains, etc. the normal “feeling sick” stuff.

So far I haven’t seen any of that with the bivalent version and shots 3 and 4 didn’t cause anything that dramatic, so I’m 92% confident that I won’t have that large of a response to this vaccine. However, the second one didn’t feel like much until I went to bed and thought, “oh no, this can’t be good” as I started to quickly go downhill from feeling just fine to feeling like I was horribly sick. Meaning if I have something happen, it’s probably too early to tell.

I do plan to do my regular second day update and if something happens that’s worth noting I may give a third update. For anyone interested updates for the (first shot)(second shot)(third shot), I guess I didn’t write about the fourth, or if I did I couldn’t find it. I probably didn’t write about it because it wasn’t worth documenting since it felt routine at that point. Or maybe I had too much other stuff going on when I got it. Oh and fair warning, I ruined any scientific integrity an n=1 study could carry because I got my flu shot as well. Meaning if I feel like garbage tomorrow I won’t know 100% which one (or the combo) caused the garbage feelings. Oops.

Now no-so-friendly reminder that this is still a pandemic and you should still mask and take proper precautions (like getting vaccinated for example). The frustrating part about a pandemic is it’s a group assignment and there’s always the people that don’t want to participate or think they know better. Please do your part to help end the pandemic. We’re all tired, but we can’t pretend everything is normal when so many people are dying or ending up possibly permanently disabled.

2 responses

  1. I appreciate you providing these status updates. Perhaps more so now that I can’t get any more COVID vaccines myself (due to defective personal immune system) and have to depend on others to minimize the spread of the virus. Knowing how little enthusiasm a lot of people have for that is discouraging, so thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 22, 2022 at 10:39 pm

    • Thank you! I agree it’s important for everyone who can be vaccinated to get vaccinated. I don’t like how we’ve been framing it as “you do you” when that’s not how a pandemic works. I remain hopeful that we can come to some sort of solution to the pandemic though because ignoring it is obviously not doing anything.

      Liked by 1 person

      September 23, 2022 at 8:09 pm

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