What does the COVID-19 vaccine actually do?

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What does the COVID-19 vaccine actually do? Does it prevent you from transmitting the coronavirus?


In the simplest terms, the vaccines train your body’s immune system to recognize and block the virus which causes COVID-19.

According to the World Health Organization, these vaccines work in different ways — such as an inactivated virus vaccine, which uses a dormant or weakened version of the virus to generate an immune response, but not give you the disease.

The WHO notes others use more scientific designs, such as protein-based — as well as RNA and DNA approaches.

  • Protein-based vaccines, which use harmless fragments of proteins or protein shells that mimic the COVID-19 virus to safely generate an immune response.
  • Viral vector vaccines, which use a safe virus that cannot cause disease but serves as a platform to produce coronavirus proteins to generate an immune response.
  • RNA and DNA vaccines, a cutting-edge approach that uses genetically engineered RNA or DNA to generate a protein that itself safely prompts an immune response.

But does being vaccinated mean you won’t transmit the virus to someone else? The answer to this question is a bit more complex, and one researchers are still trying to figure out.

At this point, studies are still underway to determine if becoming immune to the virus means you can’t spread it. Most viruses tend to remain active both inside and outside a human body, regardless of immunization. But what researchers are currently trying to determine is whether being immunized will limit the virus’ ability to spread from your body to someone else.

What we can tell you about those who have been fully immunized is fairly positive, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Canada, new guidelines haven’t been provided for what a person can and can’t do after receiving their shots. However, in the U.S., the CDC says fully vaccinated people can:

  • Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
  • Visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
  • Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic

As uncertainty looms, Canadians who are fully or partially vaccinated are asked to continue taking precautions:

  • Wear a well-fitted mask and physical distancing in public
  • Wear masks, practice physical distancing, and adhere to other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease or who have an unvaccinated household member who is at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease
  • Wear masks, maintain physical distance, and practice other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people from other households
  • Avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings

The transmission of the viruses which cause COVID-19, including the variants, is on going.

However, the good news is that most researchers believe they will be able to figure out more about transmissions among those vaccinated when more shots get into arms.

In B.C., public health orders remain around gatherings. You’re reminded to adhere to these restrictions, such as not taking part in indoor gatherings with people outside your household.

Find a full list of previously answered questions and submit your own on our Gets Answers page.

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