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How the Covid-19 Vaccine Works: amazing!

posted in All on December 29, 2020 by

Donald Thomas

It is amazing how the COVID-19 vaccine works (the mRNA vaccines, especially)

It intrigues me how the COVID-19 vaccine works! How effective it is, and how safe it is.

I got mine, #1, as of 12/29/20, and I got my 2nd shot a few weeks later. Update as of 9/7/21: I plan on getting my booster this or next week!

Dr. Donald Thomas gets the COVID-19 vaccine

Dr. Don Thomas, MD getting his COVID-19 vaccine
First: If you have an autoimmune disorder, please consider getting the vaccine when it is your turn

Read my previous post on why lupus patients should get the COVID-19 vaccination

I got my Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on 12/29/20. I’ll post how I do day by day below at the bottom of this post. However, 1st, I’ll go over how this interesting vaccine works!

How the COVID-19 vaccine works “in a nutshell”

​This is fascinating!

– The 2 COVID-19 vaccines available now (Pfizer and Moderna) are RNA vaccines

– It helps to know how RNA works (specifically mRNA)
– Look at the cell above
– We are all born with DNA that codes everything our cells produce. It is responsible for our having blue eyes instead of brown, or black hair instead of blond, or, yes… having funny smelling pee after eating asparagus (or not)
– Our DNA is “transcribed” (think it is as being translated) into RNA, and eventually messenger RNA (mRNA)
– Then, a part of our cells called ribosomes can read this mRNA like a food recipe and produce a particular protein (such as the one responsible for your 2nd toe being shorter, instead of longer, than your big toe)

COVID-19 vaccine contains the COVID-19 mRNA that codes for those spikes
– The COVID-19 vaccines are NOT live virus vaccines. They CANNOT give you COVID-19 (impossible)
– Ingeniously, they contain the virus’ mRNA that codes for those spikes you see on the outside in all the pics
– These spikes look somewhat like a crown. Latin for “crown” is corona, hence, coronavirus
mRNA injected into our bodies as a vaccine: tricks our bodies into producing the spikes, but not the entire virus
– Fascinating!
– The mRNA of the virus (in the vaccine) is injected into your muscle
– It spreads quickly throughout your blood stream and body
– The mRNA is absorbed into our own cells
– Our own cells mistakenly think this mRNA came from our own DNA and instructs those cells to produce this protein
– The protein is the same one found in the spikes of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus responsible for COVID-19
– In other words, our cells produce just those pink spikes you see in the pic below, not the entire virus
– The viral spike protein ends up on the surfaces of our cells
– Our very smart T-cells of the immune system actually DO recognize these as being foreign
– They say, “we need to fight this off and protect us”
– They summon other players of the immune system as well to the battle

DaOur B-cells then learn to produce antibodies that quickly recognize those COVID-19 spikes

– The booster shot you get a few weeks later strengthens this memory
– If you were to actually get infected with COVID-19 in the future, your B-cells would recognize those tell-tale spikes
– Those smart B-cells would say, “This is a foreign invader we must destroy”
– They summon the rest of the immune system to attack the virus and protect us

– Note that many people will get a very sore arm, redness, swelling, aches, pains, fever for a few days after the vaccine
– This is actually the immune system learning to mount an attack. Think of it as a sign of the vaccine working
Day #1:
It has just been a few hours since my vaccine
I took some Tylenol and Advil to decrease my chances for the above side effects
If you get the vaccine (which I hope you do), ask your doctor before you consider taking Tylenol and/or Advil or Aleve

Day #2: Woke up with a sore upper arm muscle (deltoid) in the area of the shot. However, I expected this as usual with a good, strong vaccine.  I’ll just take Tylenol plus Advil around the clock today to lower the risk of pain and to lower my risk of a flu-like syndrome reaction.

Day #3: Mild, tolerable arm soreness. I feel great! I am optimistic about getting vaccinated and feeling safer.


Don Thomas, author of “The Lupus Encyclopedia” and “The Lupus Secrets


  1. But what if our cells are already confused having lupus and other autoimmune diseases

    • Patients who have lupus still respond to vaccinations. There is always the possibility that they may not respond as briskly as someone who does not have lupus. However, studies looking at SLE patients getting vaccines show that they respond well. Some medications, such as methotrexate, may lower the response. However, some protection is better than no protection.

      • My concern is it could promote further immune attacks on our own body or auto antibodies. My consultant said a few weeks back they do not know enough yet to recommend it because there is no data for it in auto immune disease. Do you not feel this response is possible then?
        I also have long COViD and have developed allergies through this which is another concern of theirs.
        I am reading all I can on the vaccines to find data to understand if it is safe for me to have with these conditions. I am pro vaccine but have been told wait & see for now so I’m genuinely interested in all medical opinions

  2. I have the same question as Sherry

    • I have lupus antibodies but am symptomatic and wondered both of these questions as well.

  3. Did you have a choice on which vaccine you would choose, or were you only given that one.

    • I did not have a choice in brand; few, if anyone, do at this point.
      Unfortunately, the vaccine rollout has been quite a failure thus far in the US, and here in my state of Maryland. One hospital close to me has had trouble getting it. Another has such a small quantity that they are doing a lottery system for hospital employees. Their employees are being scheduled as far as 3 months out.
      I was fortunate to find a hospital in Washington DC to give it to me (our office takes care of a large number of DC residents).

      • Where in Maryland are you? I used to live in Rockville, but moved to central Virginia for my job. Thankful to have UVA a 15 minute drive away. I am hoping for the one that Fauci and Harris received.

    • Silver Spring. The rheum dept at UVA has a good reputation. You are in good hands!

  4. Answer for Liz:
    I do understand your and your consultant’s concern. It has not been directly studied in immunosuppressed patients.
    The CDC states that patients (such as SLE patients and immunosuppressed patients) “may get the vaccine.” This is purely based upon the knowledge that thus far, all vaccines have been safe in our patients.
    I’ll add that this includes live vaccines. (Yes, I know that sounds surprising). Though “formally” we recommend immunosuppressed patients (steroids, biologics, etc) not get live vaccines, so far, every study done using live vaccines in our patients showed that they cause no problems, such as infection from the vaccine, which is a theoretical risk, but has not panned out (so even these recommendations are gradually changing).
    Now, many experts are actually recommending live vaccines in patients on biologics and other immunosuppressants… such as here: https:/
    Therefore, it all comes down to one’s comfort level. In my area, COVID-19 is raping our community. At least 2-3 days a week I have a patient tearfully tell me of a loved one who died. Just yesterday, my partner told me his secretary’s grandpa just died from it.
    So, you must weigh the risks vs benefits. In our area, the chances of contracting COVID-19 and doing poorly are much worse than what a vaccine could possibly do, so I do advise it to my patients.
    This is not meant for medical advice, just informational material. However, I completely understand your hesitancy. Good luck on your decision. However, if you wait for an “autoimmune disease patient study”, I fear that day is a long, long time away.
    Dr T

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