You may have heard or read snippets of information about the different types of COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available or are in development. If you've been on the fence about having your initial vaccination or a booster, you may find it useful to learn about the differences between the different types of vaccines. If you're more comfortable with one type over another, you may be able to request that type. Even if you know you want to stay up-to-date with your vaccinations, the different mechanisms behind each type of vaccine may be of interest to you. So, here's an overview of a few types of COVID-19 vaccines.
Whole virus vaccines are well-established and contain the complete virus, which is used to trigger an immune response. Whole virus vaccines can either be live or inactivated. A live COVID-19 vaccine uses a weakened form of COVID-19, while an inactivated vaccine uses a form of COVID-19 with its genetic material destroyed. This prevents it from replicating, but still allows the immune system to mount a response against it. Live whole virus vaccines may not be suitable for those with a weakened immune system, so inactivated versions of whole virus vaccines are often available as they are suitable for a wider demographic.
Protein subunit vaccines use tiny pieces of protein from a virus to trigger an immune reaction. This type of vaccine is, in general, associated with fewer side effects, but the immune response that it triggers is weaker than that produced with a whole virus vaccine. As a result, boosters are often required soon after the initial vaccine to support your body's immune response. Understanding when to administer a booster vaccine has been one of the challenges scientists have had to contend with when developing COVID-19 vaccines.
Nucleic acid vaccines use RNA or DNA from the virus to stimulate your cells to make an antigen. So when COVID-19 DNA or RNA is included in a vaccine, it makes use of the protein factories within your own cells. This involvement of your own cells creates a strong immune response, which means booster vaccines may not be required, or a longer period between the initial vaccination and a booster can be achieved. A nucleic acid vaccine needs to be kept at ultra-low temperatures, so this creates a significant barrier to their use, particularly in developing countries.
If you'd like to know more about the types of COVID-19 vaccine you can access, contact your local vaccination centre. Keep this in mind when looking to make COVID-19 vaccination appointments at clinics near you.