The Science behind Vaccines – how Chemistry plays a vital role
The SARS-Cov-2 has caused catastrophic damage just within the last twelve months. The world has reacted proactively, striving to end this pandemic as soon as possible. The pandemic has stimulated a race between pharmaceutical companies to produce a vaccine for this virus. In doing so, the spread of the virus can be curbed and the world can sooner return to a more normal way of life. The recent news has highlighted several vaccines, with high effective rates, that can now be taken by the general population, that include the BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
With such vaccines being produced, many are wondering how these chemicals to function, and to what extent can they are relied upon. This article serves to explain the make-up and functioning of the COVID-19 vaccine against SARS-Cov-2. The make-up and functions of vaccines are covered in some syllabus, and has many links to the study of Chemistry, and is so emphasised on during Chemistry tuition lessons by Chemistry tutors.
What is a Vaccine and how does it function?
Let us first understand what a vaccine is and how it functions. A vaccine contains certain molecules from the pathogen that are man-made. It is intentionally inserted into the human body to trigger an immune response. It works by training the immune system to recognise and combat these pathogens, be it a virus or bacteria. The molecules injected into a human body are called antigens, which allow the immune system to safely learn to recognise them as hostile invaders. In doing so, the human body reacts quickly to produce many antibodies to destroy the virus
While defeating the virus, there are some T-lymphocytes, called memory cells, that are retained in the event of the reappearance of the virus. If the virus does reappear, the immune system will react more quickly and recognise these antigens immediately. In turn, the body will quickly replicate the antibodies for these antigens to aggressively destroy the virus, preventing the sickness from being caused. The study of vaccines is covered within Medicinal Chemistry. Students sometimes fail to recognise the distinction between vaccines and antivirals, and so Chemistry tutors spend significant time in this area during Chemistry tuition lessons to ensure they can fully appreciate the nature of these drugs.
How does the COVID-19 vaccine work against SARS-Cov-2?
COVID_19 vaccines help an individual to develop immunity against the virus causing COVID-19, without having experienced the illness that usually surfaces otherwise. We will look at the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine as an example of a vaccine currently in use across the world.
This vaccine is made up of messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA). mRNA vaccines contain material from SARS-Cov-2 that causes the virus disease. This mRNA instead instructs the human body cells on how to make a harmless protein, unique to the virus. This protein is replicated within the body, thereafter which the genetic material from the vaccine is destroyed. The immune system will recognise the hostility of these proteins and immediately trigger an immune response. The body reacts by building a supply of antibodies that serve to destroy the spike proteins found on the coronavirus, by breaking them down into fragments, hindering the ability of the virus to infect body cells. Hence, this protects the individual from suffering from the effects of SARS-Cov-2. These concepts are likely to arise in future examinations, given their significance in today’s world, and so Chemistry tutors are helping students identify the key links between Biology and Chemistry during Chemistry tuition lessons. This prepares students to apply first-hand their knowledge of Chemistry in the real world.
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