MINNEAPOLIS (TBEN) – At least 1.8 million Minnesotans rolled up their sleeves for a potential life-saving chance in the arm to fight COVID-19.
The vaccine injection is nothing new, especially during the flu season.
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But it always makes us wonder. Why are vaccines injected into our arms? And what happens once it’s in our muscle? Good question.
It is a part of life that brings tears and fuels fear from childhood until our later years. Vaccines protect us against a variety of diseases and viruses, including COVID-19. But getting one more often than not is a tricky process.
Why are many vaccines given by injection?
“One of the goals of most vaccines is to induce a strong immune response,” said Dr. Marc Jenkins, director of the Center for Immunology at the University of Minnesota. “And the best place in the body where you can do this is in organs called lymph nodes.”
Sticking the needle directly into our muscles is the best way to reach these lymph nodes.
“If we get the vaccine in our arm, in our muscles, there are lymph vessels that will carry the vaccine to the lymph nodes in our armpits,” he said.
The upper arm, or deltoid muscle, has become the primary route of injection. But what about that other, often larger, muscle located just below our back and above our thighs? Dr Jenkins says the answer to the question of why a butt injection is skipped is a practical one.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m a little more willing to bar my arm in public than where you’re talking,” he joked.
As scary as injections can be, vaccinations have come a long way.
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Hundreds of years ago in China, historians say that people scratched a small sore of smallpox in the arm of a healthy person.
In the 20th century, vaccines helped eradicate smallpox and polio in the United States.
“Kids are getting a lot more vaccines today than I did in 1960,” Jenkins said.
Vaccine administration has evolved beyond injection. A nasal spray now helps fight the flu.
But why can’t we just take a pill?
“The vaccine molecules, the actual spike protein in the case of the coronavirus vaccine, are relatively large. And they have a hard time getting from inside your gut into the lymph nodes where the immune response needs to occur, ”Jenkins said.
Another method of vaccination currently under study involves a patch, similar to a bandage. Jenkins said the patch features micro-needles that painlessly dig into the skin to deliver the vaccine.
“Certainly, animal studies show that these types of microneedle vaccines are effective, they work,” he said.
In the end, the shots pay off, and most adults have accepted the brief sting of a gunshot.
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So roll up your sleeves or put on a t-shirt. Jenkins promises regarding the COVID-19 vaccine: “You are hardly going to smell it.”