Tonight I sit here watching Match of the Day whilst a remarkable process in going on inside my body. This Wednesday I was lucky enough to receive my first dose of the much discussed Pfizer vaccine against Covid-19. This novel vaccine uses well researched mRNA technology adapted to fight this virus. mRNA (or messenger RNA) is a substance found in all cells that transmits instructions for building proteins to specific areas in the cell called ribosomes which are essentially small protein producing factories in each cell. It is a little like having blueprints for a car being delivered to an assembly plant.
The vaccine uses mRNA to make these small assembly plants produce a protein called a ‘spike’ protein, which is a match for the one that is on the outside of the Coronavirus which causes the viral cells to be able to enter our own human cells, with subsequent damage to those cells. The mRNA does not affect my own cells’ DNA, nor does it make the ribosomes produce the actual virus itself. Once these ‘spike’ proteins are produced and multiplied within my body, my own immune system responds by producing antibodies to the ‘spike’ protein. So if I am exposed to coronavirus, these antibodies attack the ‘spike’ protein and render the virus incapable of attacking my cells.
It is a little like nullifying the attacking talents of a good opposition out half. Without this incisive player or protein, the rest of the team or virus becomes useless as an attacking force, simply by taking out this one protein or individual player. So as I write this, my body has been manufacturing this protein inside my own cells, rather than in a laboratory. My immune system is now recognising these spike proteins and attacking them, as it will subsequently attack any coronavirus that has the temerity to enter my body, and completely obliterate this noxious invader.
Thinking in depth about it, the processes involved and the research and human endeavour that underpins them is as close to magic as I think I will ever experience in my lifetime. The scientific community have produced the equivalent of putting a man on the moon, in record time, but with safety being the overwhelming consideration. I feel truly honoured and humbled to have this remarkable process go on inside me, and I can assure you that the actual injection was extremely easy, aided by the professional, dedicated and very upbeat staff at the vaccine centre in GUH, even though it was well after 5 pm, and they had another two or three hours to go.
I didn’t feel the needle go in. I’ve had a slightly sore arm today, but two paracetamol this morning was enough to take care of that. I received the vaccine after a busy day in the operating theatre, but it wasn’t a problem at all. I’ve done a full day’s work today, and took a 45 minute walk with no issues at all. There has been one mild adverse reaction to the vaccine seen in GUH in someone with a history of severe allergy to a previous flu vaccine, and was managed easily and appropriately and I don’t believe even needed to stay in hospital overnight.
So there is an end in sight to this pandemic, and for those of you who are a little nervous about receiving the vaccine, I can only give you my story of a really positive and, to me, an absolutely extraordinary experience. I promise you, if you think that a smart phone or computer is cool technology, to have these processes in your body understood by people at a cellular level and that knowledge being used to empower my own body to manufacture the threatening piece of an invasive and life threatening virus, which then recruits my own immune system to produce something that will destroy this same virus, is truly mesmerising and bordering on the miraculous in my mind. Stay safe and well, everybody. There is an end in sight and with a bit more work and sacrifice, we will ride out this latest (and probably last) severe wave of this life changing virus.
David Bouchier-Hayes, Club Doctor
MB, BCh, BAO, MD, FRCSI(Urol)
Consultant Urologist and Robotic Surgeon
Associate Professor(Hon.) RCSI
Clinical Fellow (Hon.) NUIG