The day comes and goes without much fanfare. You check in at the vaccination site, wait in a short line, get your vaccine, and then wait your 15 minutes in the designated rest area. Relieved, you marvel at how straightforward the process was. You may even be wondering: is that it? What can I expect from my COVID-19 vaccine? What is my body doing with it right now?

 

While some next steps may depend on the vaccine you received, most people can expect similar outcomes post-shot. In this article, we will explain what you can expect and what you should do as you flaunt your new “Vaccinated!” status.

What Types of COVID-19 Vaccines Are Available?

There are three different COVID-19 vaccines presently available. They are as follows:

 

  • Moderna
  • Pfizer/BioNTech
  • Johnson & Johnson/Janssen

 

Each vaccine falls into one of two categories: mRNA and viral vector. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines belong to the mRNA class; they also both require two separate doses (28 and 21 days aparts, respectively). The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is unique in two respects: it is a viral vector vaccine, and it requires just one dose.

 

We’ll break down what all this means for you below. That way, you can easily determine what to expect based on the vaccine you received (or expect to receive):

How Does the COVID-19 Vaccine Work?

mRNA Vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer)

Yes, what you might have heard about this type of vaccine is correct: when you receive an mRNA vaccine, you are getting actual genetic material from the virus responsible for COVID-19. Rest assured, though: you aren’t getting the disease itself, as the virus is dead and unable to infect you. Rather, the vaccine contains vital information that teaches your cells how to create a special protein associated with the virus that causes COVID-19. Think of it as a blueprint invisible to you but understood innately by the cells that make up your immune system.

 

In fact, your cells understand exactly what to do with the genetic material and so do not have to keep that “blueprint” around. They use it to build their own versions of the protein and then destroy the materials provided by the vaccine. Finally, your immune system commits the offending protein to memory and builds up white blood cells that are armed and ready to combat the virus should the body ever have to face it for real.

Viral Vector (Johnson & Johnson)

Like the mRNA vaccine, a viral vector vaccine provides your cells with the information needed to build the protein similar to that which causes COVID-19. The method of delivery is just a little different. When you receive a viral vector vaccine, you are getting a modified version of a virus, but it is not the one known to cause COVID-19. This virus is just the carrier––viral vector––of the real star of the show: beneath the virus’ exterior is the genetic material that makes up the COVID-19 virus.

 

This viral vector will infiltrate your cells and provoke an immune response using material from the COVID-causing virus. Once it realizes that something seems amiss, your immune system will start producing antibodies and sending white blood cells to defend against the perceived invader. Of course, it’s all a false alarm. Still, your immune system will emerge victorious, now knowing how to fight COVID-19 should the body ever be infected by it.

What Should I Do After Getting Fully Vaccinated?

After you receive all the necessary doses of your vaccine, you may feel relieved. Still, you shouldn’t get too hasty. While it’s true that you can now visit friends and family without having to quarantine for several days (provided that they too are vaccinated and/or not at severe risk), you still need to practice some standard COVID-19 precautions, including:

 

  • Wear a mask when in public
  • Congregate in large groups
  • Stay socially distanced from others in public

Takeaways

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine may feel liberating and understandably so. That said, it’s important to still remain vigilant, especially when around others who may be vulnerable to the virus.

 

 

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