Covid vaccine: Is the Pfizer jab a live vaccine?

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The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is the first and only Covid vaccine approved for use in the UK so far. The Chief Executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), Dr June Raine, said earlier this month the public can be “completely confident” the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine meets the “MHRA’s robust standards of safety, quality and effectiveness”.

More than 130,000 people were vaccinated in the first week of the UK’s vaccination programme.

There have been a few reports of anaphylaxis since vaccine rollout started earlier this month.

In the first week of vaccine rollout two NHS staff members suffered a reaction to the vaccine, and it is understood both had “strong past history of allergic reactions”.

On December 9, Dr Raine said in a statement: “Any person with a history of anaphylaxis to a vaccine, medicine or food should not receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

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“A second dose should not be given to anyone who has experienced anaphylaxis following administration of the first dose of this vaccine.

“Anaphylaxis is a known, although very rare, side effect with any vaccine.

“Most people will not get anaphylaxis and the benefits in protecting people against COVID-19 outweigh the risks.

“Anyone due to receive their vaccine should continue with their appointment and discuss any questions or medical history of serious allergies with the healthcare professional prior to getting the jab.”

What is a live vaccine?

Many vaccines developed in the past have often been live attenuated vaccines.

Live vaccines use weakened forms of viruses, which once injected prompt an immune response.

Live vaccines do not cause the disease in healthy people, and the vaccines can help to build a person’s immune response should they face a potential infection in the future.

The Vaccine Knowledge Project at the University of Oxford explains on their website live vaccines are not suitable for “people whose immune system does not work, either due to drug treatment or underlying illness.”

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Weakened viruses and bacteria “can multiply too much and might cause disease” in people whose immune systems do not work.

The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is a type of live vaccine used in the UK.

In addition to live vaccines, there are some other forms of vaccines like inactivated vaccines.

Inactivated vaccines use the killed version of a virus or bacteria.

The Vaccine Knowledge Project add: “Because inactivated vaccines do not contain any live bacteria or viruses, they cannot cause the diseases against which they protect, even in people with severely weakened immune systems.

“However, inactivated vaccines do not always create such a strong or long-lasting immune response as live vaccines.”

Many vaccines in development to fight Covid-19 are neither live or inactivated vaccines, and are instead messenger RNA vaccines.

Is the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine a live vaccine?

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is not a live or inactivated vaccine.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, which is a new type of vaccine.

These mRNA vaccines work by instructing cells how to make a harmless piece of “spike protein”, which is found on the surface of the virus which causes Covid-19.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explain: “Covid-19 mRNA vaccines are given in the upper arm muscle. Once the instructions (mRNA) are inside the immune cells, the cells use them to make the protein piece.

“After the protein piece is made, the cell breaks down the instructions and gets rid of them.

“Next, the cell displays the protein piece on its surface. Our immune systems recognize that the protein doesn’t belong there and begin building an immune response and making antibodies, like what happens in natural infection against Covid-19.

“At the end of the process, our bodies have learned how to protect against future infection.

“The benefit of mRNA vaccines, like all vaccines, is those vaccinated gain this protection without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with Covid-19.”

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