“I Don’t Know What’s In There”: A Guide to the COVID-19 Vaccine

Let’s understand together the vaccine everyone is talking about.

Student Commentary

By Giada Gavazzi / Matthew staff


Okay, now that I have your undivided attention, let’s talk about it.

Too many times I have heard people saying vaccines cause autism in the last years. But with COVID-19, it has reached a whole other level.

With the spread of the virus, people have increasingly become more and more skeptical regarding the validity of a vaccine. “They don’t tell us what is in there” …“they inject microchips in us” … and then my favorite: “they cause autism.”

Photo by Maksim Goncharenok on Pexels.com

Let’s dispel some myths, shall we?

First and foremost, I think it is at the utmost importance to understand clearly how a vaccine really works. The World Health Organisation has provided us with a detailed and easy guide.

Vaccines contain weakened or inactive parts of a particular organism (antigen) that triggers an immune response within the body. Newer vaccines contain the blueprint for producing antigens rather than the antigen itself. Regardless of whether the vaccine is made up of the antigen itself or the blueprint so that the body will produce the antigen, this weakened version will not cause the disease in the person receiving the vaccine, but it will prompt their immune system to respond much as it would have on its first reaction to the actual pathogen.

Vaccines Antibody illustration 02_29 Oct
Illustration from the WHO website

A normal vaccine takes years of research before entering the global market. Experimenting, financing, producing and diffusing are processes taking even a decade. The research for a vaccine is very meticulous, and it has the sole objective of making our lives better.

Every time a vaccine is put on the market, every time it is injected to someone, its “ingredients” and methods of production are released to the world as proof  that nothing is hidden from us, that everything is in plain sight.

Thanks to the vaccines, the last generations have been lucky enough to never have encountered diseases such as polio, smallpox, tetanus, measles, and specific types of meningitis.

No vaccine has ever proved to be in direct relationship of cause regarding cases of autism. The doctor that first insinuated such theory has now been banned from the Register of Doctors and has been fired from his job. It was later revealed that his theory was deliberately constructed in order to win a lawsuit against pharmaceutical industries.

So no, vaccines do not cause autism.

What about the specific COVID-19 vaccine?

The COVID-19 vaccine does not work as the other ones: this one is an mRNA vaccine. Of course, that does not mean its effects are different. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.

This specific vaccine was not studied with the same time spans as the others, that is true. However, while in other cases doctors work simultaneously on different projects, in this case the whole attention has been focused on the creation of this one vaccine.

“Yes, but it’s not possible to develop a vaccine so quickly, Big Pharma did things superficially to get money as soon as possible,” I have heard someone say.

It is important to highlight that no phase has been skipped in order to produce it quickly, according to various scientific reports, like the one from the Union of Italian Biotechnologists.

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As the CDC explains, mRNA vaccines are new, but not unknown. Researchers have been studying and working with mRNA vaccines for decades. Interest has grown in these vaccines because they can be developed in a laboratory using readily available materials. This means the process can be standardized and scaled up, making vaccine development faster than traditional methods of making vaccines. mRNA vaccines have been studied before for flu, Zika, rabies, and cytomegalovirus (CMV).

As soon as the necessary information about the virus that causes COVID-19 was available, scientists began designing the mRNA instructions for cells to build the unique spike protein into an mRNA vaccine. 

Scientists just basically adapted pre-existing methods to the new situation. The process is inevitably quicker than usual.

Pfizer/BionTech’s vaccine boasts 95% in effectiveness. These numbers are not invented.

If a vaccine is being produced with so much hurry, it’s because people are dying, and people that can’t get vaccinated are risking everything each day.

That’s right. Unfortunately, not everyone can be vaccinated.

Illustration from the WHO website

Some people may be more susceptible to the diseases we vaccinate against, like the elderly and pregnant women, and they cannot be vaccinated due to their weak immune system.

But if everyone except them vaccinates, then they are protected as well, since there is no way the disease can reach them. This is called herd immunity.

Vaccines topic 1 illustrations 04
Illustration from the WHO website

Hence, vaccinating not only protects yourself, but also protects those in the community who are unable to be vaccinated.

We have the freedom to choose whether to get vaccinated or not, but not everyone has that freedom. And if not enough people are vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity, then we expose to the virus all the people who don’t have the same choice we have.

Looking at all the protests going on against the Green Pass and the vaccine across Italy, I cannot help but think that we are forgetting how lucky we are of having all these safe nets. I know it may sound a little bit cliché, but some parts of the world do not have the same opportunities to get the COVID-19 vaccine as we do. We need to be more conscious about our luckiness.

Vaccinating ourselves is a chance we have, as citizens of the world, to put an end to all this suffering.

It’s up to us.

Useful Information


In Italy, from 3 January 2020 to 18 November 2021, there have been 4.883.242 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 132.965 deaths, reported to WHO. As of 14 November 2021, a total of 88.459.929 vaccine doses have been administered.

According to the last report from the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS), there is a strong decrease in the infection rate for completely vaccinated individuals, while most reported COVID-19 cases in September have been for unvaccinated individuals. The hospitalization rate is 8 times higher for unvaccinated individuals, 12 times higher the chances for intensive care, while the death rate is 5 times higher than for vaccinated people.  


In the US, unvaccinated 12 – 34 year-olds are:

  • 5 times more likely to get COVID-19 compared with fully vaccinated 12-34 year-olds.
  • 14 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared with fully vaccinated   12-34 year-olds.

Unvaccinated 35 – 64 year-olds are:

  • 5 times more likely to get COVID-19 compared with fully vaccinated 35-64 year-olds.
  • 18 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared with fully vaccinated   35-64 year-olds.

Unvaccinated 65+ year-olds are:

  • 5 times more likely to get COVID-19 compared with fully vaccinated 65+ year-olds.
  • 9 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared with fully vaccinated 65+       year-olds.
  • 9 times more likely to die of COVID-19 compared with fully vaccinated 65+ year-olds.

On July 1, in the US the case rate among unvaccinated people was about 8 cases per 100,000 people per day, while among the vaccinated it was less than 1 case. Over the next two months, cases spiked among unvaccinated people, increasing by an additional 82 cases per 100,000 people, per day.

 HHS and CDC data indicates there were:

  • 32,000 preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations in June,
  • 68,000 preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations in July,
  • 187,000 preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations among unvaccinated adults in the U.S. in August, for a total of 287,000 across the three months.

In the same time period, about 99 percent of the people who lost their lives to COVID-19 were not fully inoculated against the virus, numbers published by the CDC show.

Only 2,437 Americans, or 0.92 percent of deaths, were a result of breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated patients.

Unvaccinated Americans have died at 11 times the rate of those fully vaccinated since the delta variant became the dominant strain, according to surveillance data gathered over the summer by the CDC. Vaccinated people were 10 times less likely to be admitted to hospital and five times less likely to be infected than unvaccinated people.


In the UK, between 2 January and 24 September 2021, the age-adjusted risk of deaths involving coronavirus (COVID-19) was 32 times greater in unvaccinated people than in fully vaccinated individuals.

Researchers analyzed data from 204 household contacts of 138 people with a Delta infection.

Household contacts who had received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were less likely to contract an infection with the Delta variant than unvaccinated people. 25 percent of vaccinated contacts exposed to a household member with an infection contracted one themselves. In contrast, 38 percent of unvaccinated contacts got an infection.

To have more information, check out the CDC website’s section on COVID-19 science.