Explaining Pfizer Vaccine in a Nutshell

I was just explaining how the Pfizer vaccine against Covid-19 works to my parents – not that they were vaccine skeptics or some such, my mother was just curious – so I put my teacher hat on and – inspired by yesterday’s picture post by kestrel – I put it to them thusly:

A virus is an envelope that contains the instruction on how to make a said envelope with the same instructions inside. So the body starts producing said envelopes with the instructions over and over again. The vaccine is similar but it is just an envelope containing the instruction on how to make the virus envelope – but without the instructions inside. Thus when the instructions from the vaccine are used up, the production stops, unlike with the virus. In the meantime, the immune system learns from this how to recognize the envelope, and subsequently, when it encounters the real deal, it can destroy it.

Yes, I do occasionally explain things to my elderly parents in an oversimplified fashion as if they were children. Especially sciencey things. They do not seem to mind.


  1. kestrel says

    Nice example. I heard a doctor explain it as a thing that takes over the cell’s copy machine and forces it to copy itself, instead of the financial reports, grocery lists etc. that it’s supposed to print out -- and then those copies go and take over OTHER cells etc.

    I like your explanation. Making it easy to understand is not a bad thing at all.

  2. fusilier says

    Ok, your explanation isn’t perfectly detailed at the molecular level, but it isn’t wrong, either.

    When I first started teaching ANP to allied health students, I used to describe the immune system as the characters in a 1930’s B-Western movie. Helper T-calls (CD4+) were like the old prospector who saw the outlaws and rode into town. Killer T-cells (cytotoxic) were the reformed gunslinger who reluctantly went out hunting, and suppressor T-cells were the pretty school-teacher from Back East who told the gunslinger it was all over.

    TOTALLY silly, but it worked.

    (Plasma and memory B-cells didn’t fit the script, but who cares!)


    James 2:24

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