How Vaccines Work

“How do vaccines work?”

That’s a good question, and an important one to be asking right now. What you first have to understand is how a body fights off a virus. A body fights off a virus using several different types of white blood cells. The three important ones are:


These white blood cells make antibodies that attack the germ remains left over by this next white blood cell.


white blood cells that digest germs and dying cells to produce antigens (traces of the germ that the body can identify and analyze as dangerous).


These ones are simple, all they do is attack infected cells in the body.

“Sounds like my white blood cells got it covered”

Unfortunately no, not only by not getting vaccinated do you become a risk to other people (See Herd Immunity), you become a risk to yourself. Aside from the obvious dangers dealing with the virus has, it’s shown that it also has the potential to weaken your immune system after dealing with it, making you more susceptible to getting the disease again, or getting another one, the only difference being this time around your body will have a lot harder time fighting it off.

Types of Vaccines

Protein Subunit Vaccines

Injects a harmless version of the virus (specifically the virus’s proteins) that your body learns how to fight. Pretty run-of-the-mill stuff, unlike the viral vector, which gives you a weakened, harmless version of the virus. Protein subunits just give you bits and pieces of the virus.

mRNA Vaccines

This vaccine works similar to our macrophages in our body! The vaccine gives your body tools to make proteins to protect from the virus and understand how to better detect when the virus is in the body.

Viral Vector Vaccines

This vaccine injects a modified, harmless version of the virus into our body. Our body then analyses the virus and makes instructions for how to deal with the real thing.

Other Information

Key Words

 Don’t feel like reading? I’ve compiled a bunch of key words and terms below for people who just need definitions or a real quick rundown. 


Herd immunity: A bunch of people getting immune so the people who can’t immunize are safe.

Vaccine: A substance that boosts the creation of antibodies and builds immunity to either one or several diseases. 

Pandemic: A global outbreak of a disease.

T-Lymphocytes: White blood cells that attack infected cells in the body.

B-Lymphocytes: White blood cells that make antibodies that attack the germ remains left over by macrophages.

Macrophages: White blood cells that digest germs and dying cells to produce antigens (traces of the germ that the body can identify and analyze as dangerous.)

Viral vector: Modified versions of a virus that help our cells understand the virus.

mRNA: A single strand of RNA that goes to the cytoplasm with instructions on how to make proteins.

Protein subunit vaccine: Injects a harmless version of the virus (specifically the virus’s proteins) that your body learns how to fight.

Quarantine: Isolating a person, animal, or object to stop the spread of a disease. 

Cloth mask: Masks that can catch droplets you cough or sneeze 

N95 mask: More respirator than masks. Is built to filter large and small particles

Medical mask: Filters small particles you might inhale, and filters and prevents any droplets or particles you let out from reaching others as well.

Abstract (specifically the section of writing in science papers): an overview of the study done.  





Other Information




Reviewed by Philip Ball July 23rd, 2020

Debora MacKenzie COVID-19: The Pandemic That Should Never Have Happened and How to Stop the Next One 2020 Bridge Street Press 


Scientific American Charles Schmidt December 14th, 2020 Dr. Fauci Explains How to End the COVID Pandemic 


Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019, COVID-19 


American Association for the Advancement of Science, Ecology and Economics for Pandemic Prevention, Andrew P. Dobson, Stuart L. Pimm, Lee Hannah, Les Kaufman, Jorge A. Ahumada, Amy W. Ando, Aaron Bernstein, Jonah Busch, Peter Daszak, Jens Engelmann, Margaret F. Kinnaird, Binbin V. Li, Ted Loch-Temzelides, Thomas Lovejoy, Katarzyna Nowak, Patrick R. Roehrdanz, Mariana M. Vale, July 24th, 2020 


World Health Organization



Our World in Data, Hannah Ritchie, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina, Diana Beltekian, Edouard Mathieu, Joe Hasell, Bobbie Macdonald, Charlie Giattino, and Max Roser 


Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, What is Herd Immunity and how can We Achieve it With COVID-19, Gypsyamber D’Souza and David Dowdy April 10, 2020,not%20immune%20to%20the%20disease


Heather A. Berlin, March 14th, 2016, Trends in Immunology 

Pew Research Center Most Approve of National Response to COVID-19 in 14 Advanced Economies, August 27, 2020Kat Devlin and Aidan Connaughton 


 Bloomberg, The Covid Resilience Ranking Best and Worst Places to Be in Covid: Vaccine Not Slowing Deaths, Jinshan Hong, Rachel Chang and Kevin Varley, November 24, 2020 

UNC Health Talk, January 4th, 2021, The COVID-19 Vaccines Are Here—Now What? 


CDC,  September 10th, 2020, Show Me the Science – Why Wash Your Hands?


Mayo Clinic, February 13th, 2021, How well do face masks protect against coronavirus? 


CDC, November 24th, 2020, When and How to Wash Your Hands 


PMC, June 2nd, 2020, The immune system and COVID-19: Friend or foe? Fereshteh Yazdanpanah, Michael R. Hamblin, and Nima Rezaeib 


B.19 – Transportation and Pandemics,  Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Dr. Thomas Luke, Dr. Michael Osterholm,increase%20the%20risk%20of%20exposure


Stanford Medicine, Bruce Goldman, Study reveals immune-system deviations in severe COVID-19 cases 


CDC, What Would Happen If We Stopped Vaccinations? 


University of Colorado Boulder, Lisa Marshall, April 8th, 2020, 6 lessons we can learn from past pandemics 


University of California San Francisco, Allison Bond, We Must Learn from Our Past-

A look at past outbreaks offers guidance on bringing the current one to an end – and on thwarting the next one. 




Other Information

About Me

Hello, my name is Alex Guigar. My pronouns are they/them. I go to Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia and the COVID TLDR is my senior project. I wanted to do my part in stopping the spread of misinformation surrounding the covid pandemic. I could wax poetic here about a sense of noble duty to keep the people informed and safe. Honestly, I was just tired of hearing the same repeated misinformation about what can be a deadly situation for people. I know people either can’t be bothered or maybe aren’t able to read a lot of the new information coming out, and either way I don’t really blame them. Not to repeat what I say in the website intro, but that stuff is really boring. Unfortunately, it’s super important too. So I made something to meet people in the middle, it’s a bunch of the really fundamental stuff about covid and the pandemic, boiled down and super informal. And, for the extra-achievers, sources to branch out into their own research. At the end of the day, all I want the COVID TLDR to be is an easy website where you can make a quick fact check, read up on something in a few seconds, or watch a quick cover video to get the basics of what’s going on before you go back to what you were doing. Hope you can find something informative and arm yourself with a little knowledge out there. Stay healthy and stay safe.

Other Information


It’s really easy to fall into a rabbit hole of misinformation surrounding covid. Here’s some tips to keep your research on the right track:


    • Keep to .gov and .edu websites: these mean the website domain is either educational or a government website, either most likely has research on covid that’s accurate and most importantly being updated. A go to .gov website for me is the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), .edu sites are a little more specific as they are usually research papers about specific aspects of the virus, but still if that’s what you’re looking for those are what you should be clicking on first.
    • Anything that says “What scientists aren’t telling you”: is a good early red flag to see because it mostly just means the source is clickbait. The entire job of scientists is to tell you stuff, there’s no benefit to hiding covid information. 
  • Things that say the vaccine is the “Mark of the beast” or if the vaccine is “Satan Juice”: It’s not, this and things similar to this are appeals to your religious belief’s as a way to convince you of something that you normally wouldn’t believe.
  • Sources that claim that the vaccine changes your DNA: This just indicates a simple misunderstanding of the mRNA vaccine. The vaccine doesn’t enter your nucleus or change your DNA, it just gives you the information you need to fight the vaccine. Think about it like this: If I gave you an axe to cut down a tree, that wouldn’t change who you are, it just means you’re now properly equipped to do what you need to do.
  • Social Media: I don’t need to explain to you how much misinformation is on social media. However, I know you’re going to use it anyways so I’m not gonna try and stop you. Instead, try to follow science communicators whose job it is to relay/correct accurate information on stuff like this. Some great science communicators I recommend following are science.sam, dresmerelda, and kizzyphd on Instagram. They are all great sources to use, have science-based PhD’s, and update information on a daily basis.

Corroborate Data: make sure the information you’re getting is agreed upon. Try to find the same/similar information from another good source just to double check what you’re reading isn’t either wrong or outdated.


What do we learn from Pandemics?

Past Epidemics/ Pandemics, what we learn from them

Our recent pandemic hasn’t been the only pandemic our world  has been through. By looking at past diseases we can learn a lot. Take the SARs outbreak of 2003, by looking at the timeline we can learn from past mistakes. As outlined in ten years after SARs, doctors and researcher comment on not only how communication and disease control has improved, but how challenging initial research of the disease was in the first place. Because of this, governments had to communicate and widely release more information, causing a larger amount of cooperation between nations. It was a shockwave that caused a new normal for everyone to adjust to, something we can all identify with right now. There’s also a quote I found during my research I like by Colorado University History Professor Elizabeth Fenn “Epidemics highlight the fault lines in our society.” History supports this, the SARS outbreak required a higher level of communication, and we can see in our pandemic the inherent faults of a discombobulated government. Pandemics let us know what we need to adjust and fix in our world. 


How pandemics start/spread

How pandemics spread

There are several ways disease spread, the most common ways are airborne, direct and indirect contact, and through exchanging bodily fluids (insect bites, saliva exchange, blood exchange.) These types of transmissions all affect how well a disease spreads.

Planes, Trains, and influenza

 It’s also important to look at human connections as a factor for how disease spreads. Means of transportation play a significant factor in disease spread as well. Planes, trains, and automobiles go all over the world and the larger spread of people, the larger potential for a disease to spread. According to, over the past 300 years there have been 10 major influenza pandemics. One of the most severe ones, the 1918 Spanish flu, was one of the most deadly due to the disease spreading by transportation, having global coverage by the 20th century. In short, As transportation has become more effective, so has the quickness a disease can spread and become a global issue

“Ok, so what?”

It’s great to know how pandemics spread, because it reaffirms just how important it is to stop pandemics. The more connected we are as a community, the more we present a danger to each other. Which is exactly why we need to use our connection to help everyone. Simple but incredibly effective things like herd immunity and Hygiene are super important to reduce germs and bacteria, and wearing masks are great ways to keep your bacteria and germs from spreading. More information on the sections talking about the importance of hygiene, herd immunity, and the importance of masks.

Covid Pandemics

Next Steps

What Next?

Update: You don’t have to wear masks as long as you are fully vaccinated and are not in a crowd. That doesn’t mean “No more masks ever you’re good!” it’s more “You now have a wider access to some things.” Still try to stay outdoors, still stay away from large groups, still stay safe. Personally, I plan to keep wearing mine to feel safe and because I like making faces at people under my mask. I can’t tell you what to do, only advise you to make the safest decision for yourself.

It may be easy to push the pandemic out of the way now that people are finally getting vaccinated. And while our shared situation is improving, there is still work to do, as well as work that must be maintained. We have not reached a good level of herd immunity yet. People who haven’t gotten the vaccine yet are still at risk. Due to supply limits we are prioritizing the people most at risk to get the vaccine the quickest, that leaves the rest of us who are in the least amount of danger to keep each other out of danger. An article by UNC healthcare outlines very clearly what people should be doing before and after the vaccine. Before you’re vaccinated you should be maintaining basic hygiene: washing hands regularly, quarantining at home if you’re sick, staying 6 feet apart, as well as continuing to wear a mask. After the vaccine you should continue what you were doing before, staying hygienic, wearing a mask, ect. Doctors haven’t vaccinated everyone and are not sure if it prevents asymptomatic infection (Asymptomatic means people with COVID who are not showing any symptoms, but can still pass on the virus). If what the UNC doesn’t convince you, check out what Doctor Fauci has said, the following quote comes from an interview he did with the news site Scientific American. (Do note that this interview was in December of 2020, so it is a little dated.)

Q: Coronavirus infections are surging exponentially. Can we still get them under control?

A: “Yes, absolutely. I’ve been saying this every day. If we, uniformly throughout the country, implement public health guidelines—wearing masks, keeping physically distanced, avoiding crowded situations, doing things outdoors more than indoors and washing hands frequently—I believe we will see an effect. We know from experience that the states or cities or countries that have done this have always been able to blunt and mitigate the slope of a surging curve such as this one.”


Q: What are your major concerns for vaccine distribution?

A: “We hope to get the overwhelming majority of people in this country vaccinated. We have the logistics under Operation Warp Speed and General Gustave Perna [Operation Warp Speed’s chief operations officer] to put vaccines into the trucks, trains, planes and whatever it is that gets them to where they need to go. But then local public health officials will need the capability and resources to distribute the vaccines in an equitable way. It’s going to be a big task to vaccinate more than 300 million people—a very prodigious project.”

There’s more than a few similarities between these two, and 3 months apart we still have the same goal. We need to continue doing what we’ve been doing to keep people safe, and continue to be patient while the very daunting task of vaccinating the millions in America takes place. But as Fauci says in the interview although it’s “A very prodigious project” it becomes a much easier task when each of us do what we’re able to stay safe and keep our friends and family safe. Stay hygienic, stay safe.