A Crash Course On Immunity & the COVID-19 Vaccine
A conversation with Dr. Shamone Gore Panter on the COVID-19 vaccine and why people are still hesitant to get it
Written by Abigail Preiszig
Last May, Dr. Shamone Gore Panter received a call from her niece who was being pressured to get the COVID-19 vaccine by her father-in-law. She was a new mom and felt fearful of the newness of the vaccine and things she had read online
“Will it go to the baby?” Dr. Gore Panter recalled her asking.
“I understand the fear because this was fast,” Dr. Gore Panter said. “If you’re not in science at all this was like, ‘Whoa, yesterday we had nothing, and today we got all of this stuff?’”
Dr. Gore Panter has been an assistant college lecturer in the Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences at Cleveland State University since 2014, the same year she received her Ph.D. in Molecular Medicine from Case Western Reserve University. She has also been a research scholar, focusing on cardiovascular genetics, at the Cleveland Clinic since 2005.
Her niece knew she could trust her aunt when it came to this stuff.
“My niece — after we had our nice long conversation — she went the next day and got her vaccine. That was huge to me.”
Others aren’t so amenable.
“I don’t feel I need it,” said Rachel Altman, 21, a student at Kent State. “I have some immunity from having COVID already. The vaccine is pretty new and I don’t support the movements of control behind it. Control as in controlling what people do and the choices we make for ourselves.”
“I feel like if you have to be forced, pressured, ridiculed, bullied, mandated, etc. in order to gain your compliance, the product being promoted is probably not in your best interest,” Altman continued to clarify that she is not “anti-vax, just anti-COVID vaccine.”
“Personally, I don’t think I’ll ever get it. They would have to have significant peer-reviewed research, it would have to be tested over many years, and I would have to be in a health situation where it was necessary.”
Despite assurances from the CDC and other medical professionals, public health campaigns and the free and accessible vaccine, Altman is one of many Americans who don’t want to be vaccinated.
The COVID-19 vaccine is a messenger RNA (or mRNA) vaccine, meaning that it does not contain any piece of the virus, but rather a code to allow your cells to replicate a “spike protein” found on the surface of the coronavirus. The mRNA eventually goes away, but leaves the body knowing how to create antibodies specific to the “spike protein” of the COVID-19 virus, according to the CDC and Dr. Gore Panter.
“mRNA is kinda like the middleman between what your DNA says and what your body makes,” Dr. Gore Panter said. “DNA and protein don’t talk to each other. They need something like a translator, so the translator is someone who speaks both languages. The mRNA speaks both languages — it takes what the DNA wants to be made and sends it so that now you can get a protein that makes it.”
The mRNA carries the message from the DNA out of the nucleus of the cell and into the cytoplasm where it pairs up with ribosomes to make the protein. The COVID-19 vaccine never needs to go into the nucleus of the cell and thus does not come in contact with the DNA.
The COVID-19 vaccine is not the first mRNA vaccine to be produced, but it is the first FDA-approved mRNA vaccine to be produced on such a large scale in the United States. This mRNA technology was discovered in the early 60s and continued to be developed for years. It has even been used against the Ebola virus and rabies, according to an article by John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The COVID-19 vaccine was developed so quickly because the government provided a lot of funding, allowing for better resources, more people and faster turnaround time. The COVID vaccine development also saw a sharing of resources that is not typically seen between companies.
“Everybody wants to beat everybody out,” Dr. Gore Panter said. “That wasn’t quite the case here. It was a lot more working together. That was a really, really, REALLY good thing to see. So many of these companies were willing to work together to get this figured out.”
They needed to figure out what sequence of the virus to use, what liquid would carry the mRNA into your arm, what temperature the vaccine needed to be kept or injected at, how to mass produce it and much more.
“And it’s not like it stopped,” Dr. Gore Panter said. “Unfortunately, the virus is still here. The numbers have gone down considerably, but all it takes is another variant that this [vaccine] doesn’t recognize.”
In a push to get people vaccinated, some employers, restaurants and public venues throughout the U.S. have begun requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccines. This has caused tension among those choosing not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
As Altman stated, government control is a concern for those unwilling to get vaccinated, yet this control is nothing new. K-12 students in the state of Ohio are required to get at least 6 different vaccines in order to attend public school.
But because the COVID-19 vaccine is still relatively new and the virus has become so highly politicized, some Americans are still understandably uncertain about getting vaccinated. It seems that for now, education — not force — is the best route to take when it comes to persuading people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“That’s the bigger problem,” Dr. Gore Panter said. “This was made political. Health is not political. Science is not political. Viruses aren’t Democratic or Republican. They don’t care.”
When encouraging loved ones and peers to get the COVID-19 vaccine, it is best to approach the situation with care. Telling people what to do generates even more stubbornness; instead, give them the educational tools they need to make their own decisions, Dr. Gore Panter suggests.
“Just getting people education really helps a lot,” Dr. Gore Panter said ,“but they have to be willing to come to the table too.”
Even when having the conversation with her niece, Dr. Gore Panter never pressured her to get vaccinated.
“I answered her questions, and that was it,” Dr. Gore Panter said, “and she made the decision based off of what she learned.”