How COVID-19 Vaccines Work

COVID-19 vaccines help our bodies develop immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19 without us having to get the illness. Different types of vaccines work in different ways to offer protection, but with all types of vaccines, the body is left with a supply of “memory” cells that will remember how to fight that virus in the future. 

It typically takes a few weeks after your last dose of vaccine for your body to have the highest level of protection. 

Sometimes after vaccination, the process of building immunity can cause symptoms, such as fever, muscle aches, feeling tired. These symptoms are normal and are a sign that the body is building immunity. 

Types of Vaccines 

Currently, there are two types of COVID-19 vaccines that are authorized for emergency use in the United States. None of these vaccines can give you COVID-19 because they do not contain any live COVID virus. 

mRNA vaccines contain material from the virus that causes COVID-19 that gives our cells instructions for how to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. After our cells make copies of the protein, they destroy the genetic material from the vaccine. Our bodies recognize that the protein should not be there and build cells that will remember how to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 if we are infected in the future. (Moderna, Pfizer- BioNTech) 

Vector vaccines contain a weakened version of a live virus — a different virus than the one that causes COVID-19 — that has genetic material from the virus that causes COVID-19 inserted in it (this is called a viral vector). Once the viral vector is inside our cells, the genetic material gives cells instructions to make a protein that is unique to the virus that causes COVID-19. Using these instructions, our cells make copies of the protein. This prompts our bodies to build cells that will remember how to fight that virus if we are infected in the future. (Johnson and Johnson) 

Most COVID-19 Vaccines Require More Than One Shot 

All but one of the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently authorized for emergency use in the United States use two shots. The first shot starts building protection. A second shot a few weeks later is needed to get the most protection the vaccine has to offer. One vaccine (Johnson and Johnson) only needs one shot to provide protection. 

The Bottom Line 

Getting vaccinated is one of many steps you can take to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.  Protection from COVID-19 is critically important because for some people, it can cause severe illness or death. All vaccines have been proven to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death. It doesn’t matter which vaccine you get, just get vaccinated when it is your turn. 

Stopping a pandemic requires using all the tools available. Vaccines work with your immune system so your body will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed. Other steps, like masks and physical distancing, help reduce your chance of being exposed to the virus or spreading it to others. Together, COVID-19 vaccination and following CDC’s recommendations to protect yourself and others will offer the best protection from COVID-19. 

Things to Know About COVID-19 Vaccination Following Johnson & Johnson’s EUA 

  1. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now approved three COVID-19 vaccines for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). It is the first single-dose vaccine approved for EUA. 
  2. Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine uses a harmless adenovirus to activate an immune response to the coronavirus spike protein. It shows mild side effects like other vaccines. 
  3. Clinical trials showed a 72 percent efficacy against COVID-19 infection and 86 percent efficacy against severe illness and death in those who received the vaccine. No COVID-19 deaths were reported in those vaccinated during clinical trials. 
  4. It doesn’t matter which vaccine you receive. The most important thing is to get vaccinated when it is your turn. Vaccination is the most effective way to end the COVID-19 pandemic and protect yourself and those you come in contact with. 
  5. As health care professionals, we have the responsibility to continue to be leaders in our communities. Please encourage everyone to get educated about the vaccine’s safety and get vaccinated when supplies are available to them. Also, remind the people in your life of the importance of wearing with a mask, washing hands often, avoiding crowds and staying at least 6 feet away from others.  

Black Men in White Coats Film Screening and Live Q&A Session with Film’s Creator

As we prepare to celebrate Black History Month, the Diversity and Inclusion Council at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland is pleased to offer free virtual film screenings of Black Men in White Coats to colleagues across Trinity Health Michigan. This documentary explores the systemic barriers that prevent black men from becoming medical doctors, and has received national attention on outlets such as The Today Show, Forbes, and NPR.

The film’s description states, “Fed up with the lack of diversity among doctors, a medical doctor sets out to explore why only 2% of American doctors are black men and what that means for society.”

We will offer virtual film screenings of Black Men in White Coats on demand from Feb. 1 – 5. For an admission code, please submit a request at

On Friday, Feb. 5 at 1 p.m., we will also host a live virtual Q&A session with Dale Okorodudu, MD, the film’s creator. Dr. Okorodudu is passionate about increasing the number of black men in medical school, and will spend time discussing his experiences and answering colleagues’ questions.

We are honored to offer this experience to our colleagues, and encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity for learning and reflection.

Lori Marie Key, SMML RN, to Sing at National COVID-19 Memorial for Biden Inauguration Activities

A nationwide COVID-19 memorial is being held tomorrow to remember and honor the lives lost to COVID-19 on Tuesday, Jan. 19, the night before Inauguration Day. We are honored to share that Lori Marie Key, an RN at St. Mary Mercy Livonia, will sing as part of the ceremony. The memorial will feature a lighting around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, and cities and towns are invited to illuminate buildings and ring church bells at 5:30 p.m. ET that day as part of a national moment of unity and remembrance. For more details and to watch, click here.

We Want to Thank You! 76% of Colleagues Vaccinated with First of Two Doses

A big thank you to all our colleagues who have eagerly sought to receive their COVID-19 vaccines. You have become some of the first across the country, even the world, to be vaccinated!

We are proud to report that as of Monday, January 18, 76% colleagues across Mercy Health and St. Joe’s have received at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

As our colleagues have been returning for their second dose, or full course of the COVID-19 vaccine, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will provide up to 95% protection from COVID19 within a week or so after the second dose.

Although we are challenged by limited supply, clinics are prioritizing vaccinating our returning colleagues to ensure maximum protection. Colleagues are advised to receive their second dose within 21 days for Pfizer and 28 days for Moderna of their first shot. If the second dose is delayed, it is still felt to be effective, but should be obtained as early as possible.

In the clinical trials, fewer patients complained of arm pain at the injection site with their second dose, but more people felt fatigue, had muscle achiness and chills with the second dose than with their first dose. Our own experience with Trinity Health Michigan colleagues who have received both doses is about the same. In all cases, symptoms have rapidly improved.

If you have not yet received your initial dose of COVID-19 vaccine, please be patient.

The COVID-19 vaccine, while not mandatory, is in high demand among our communities with very limited supply. We are working diligently with local health departments and the state of Michigan to roll out vaccines in a safe and equitable manner.

White Coats for Black Lives Kneeling in Solidarity – June 5 at 1 PM

In honor of all who are impacted by social injustice and violence, physicians and providers across the country will be participating in the White Coats for Black Lives’ 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silent observance, at 1 p.m. this afternoon.

Dedicated health care colleagues of hospitals, clinics and physician practices will kneel in silent reflection and commitment – either at home or while at work – to improve the health and safety of people of color. We support this opportunity to support one another in the midst of community unrest.

If you choose to participate virtually or in your hospital or clinic, please maintain social distance and wear a mask and white coat in an area that does not involve patient care. Share your photos as an expression of care online with #WhiteCoatsforBlackLives and #HereBesideYou (check in to your location).

Please also email photos to (SEMI audience) with permission to be posted in our newsletter and social media.

Celebrating Our Heroes: A Reflection for National Nurses Week and Health Care Week

Nurses Week Masthead

By Scott Opperman and Kathy Schell

The Gospels report that Jesus said: “If you want to save your lives, you must lose them.” One way of understanding this is that when we become self-absorbed, so focused on ourselves, we oddly become unfree and unfulfilled. Life seems dangerous all around us and we can become debilitated. Again, strange as it sounds, if, however, we “lose” ourselves and shift the focus outwards—if we become persons for others on a purposeful mission—we may “save” our lives (not to mention others). That is, we may live freely and fully.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have exemplified being persons for others on a mission: Our shared Trinity Health Mission. Most members of our communities would have understood if we performed in a less than exceptional way given the invisible, contagious danger around us. Instead, we have served and continue to serve beyond their expectations. We haven’t sought recognition but our communities offer it abundantly—in the vicinities of Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Grand Rapids, the Lakeshore, Livingston, Livonia, Muskegon, Oakland, and beyond.

We, Mercy Health and St. Joseph Mercy Health System colleagues, have been honored as authentic heroes by our communities because of our remarkable care during this pandemic. Our intent was not to seek recognition. But truly in “losing” our lives we have “saved” them (not to mention others). What a blessing it is to share a purposeful Mission: Serving together in the spirit of the Gospel.

Happy National Health Care and Nurses Week to all our heroes!

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Scott Opperman serves as Director of Mission Integration for Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, and Kathy Schell serves as Director of Mission Integration, St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea.

Bridging the Gap: Video Chat Technology Connects Patients with Loved Ones During Pandemic

One of the most poignant challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic is that patients typically cannot see their loved ones in person. While visitor restrictions are currently necessary, patients and their loved ones are often desperate to see each other, especially in times of severe illness.

To address this, colleagues at St. Joseph Mercy Health System and Mercy Health have found innovative ways to connect patients with their families and friends. Using video chat technology on iPads and other devices, patients have been able to see and talk with their loved ones virtually, easing some of the situation’s distress.

At St. Joseph Mercy Oakland, colleagues recently used video technology to connect a mother battling COVID-19 with her seven children, who were spread out around the country. The family spoke daily, sometimes multiple times a day. Sarah Patterson, an RN on 4 South, shared, “Many emotional and even more so comical stories and memories were able to be shared. At the end of each session, the seven children would give a closing goodbye and they would go in order from youngest to oldest. One of the sons would play music in the background, and one of the daughters would connect from her back porch in Little Rock, AR and you could hear all the birds chirping.”

On the patient’s birthday, she began to show signs of decline, so Sarah called the children and quickly reconnected them on the video chat. They sang “Happy Birthday” to their mother, prayed, and shared an Irish blessing. After their mother passed, one of the sons told Sarah that St. Joe’s Oakland had gone above and beyond, and that the family was so grateful for the opportunity to communicate with her until the end.

Other hospitals across the statewide system have similar stories. At St. Mary Mercy Livonia, Spiritual Care Manager Larry Lyons and Chief Patient Experience Office Laura Gutierrez helped a daughter communicate with her mother, who had COVID-19, using an iPad. Laura wrote, “[We] prayed with the daughter. During the prayer followed by the daughter speaking to her mother, there were no visible signs the mother could hear us.  No movement, no increase in heart rate or breathing. We told the daughter we were sure she could hear us.”

The daughter then asked her mother to wiggle her toes as a sign. The mother wiggled her toes, causing her daughter to cry tears of joy. As the call drew to an end, the daughter told her mother she loved her, and asked her to wiggle her toes again if she could hear. The mother did. Laura shared that it was “a beautiful moment.”

While a virtual visit is not the same as holding a loved one’s hand, the ability to see and speak to loved ones through technology is a great comfort to many patients. We are grateful to our colleagues for seeking innovative ways to connect patients with their family and friends, and for honoring the sacredness and dignity of our patients during these unprecedented times.

COVID-19 Stewardship Response Requires Expedited Move to the New Webex: All Colleagues Must Transition to the New Webex by Friday, May 8

Cisco WebEx LogoTrinity Health’s full transition to the new Webex was approximately 50% complete, when leaders recognized the urgent need to expedite the change and require the transition to be completed by Friday, May 8. On that date, all Intercall and/or “old Webex” information in appointments will no longer be functional.

“There are few who are unaware of the current health emergency’s negative financial impact on our Ministry, and higher Intercall surcharges along with the increased use of the service by colleagues working from home has created a significantly increased financial burden on the System,” said Marcus Shipley, Senior Vice President, Innovation and Chief Information Officer. “To eliminate approximately $400,000/month or more of unnecessary spending on Intercall, we are asking all colleagues to switch now.”

To ensure the success of the transition and future meetings, it is critically important that all hosts update their scheduled meetings to the new Webex audio and web links as soon as possible.  All conference call users must start using Webex, rather than their soon-to-be phased out Intercall conference lines.

Please help Trinity Health steward financial resources and enable stronger collaborations across the Ministry by taking these steps now:

  1. Follow the available step-by-step instructions for updating your Webex desktop and meetings to make the transition as soon as possible.
  2. If you need more help, submit a ticket to ServiceNow or watch a recorded session available, along with many other tools and job aids, on the Cisco Webex Pulse page.
  3. Update all meetings scheduled for after Friday, May 8.

The System’s Conferencing team reminds us that these steps are critical to a successful upgrade and to uninterrupted connectivity.

The new service offers lower costs, more reliability and greater functionality,” said Shipley. “While there is some work involved in making the transition, the benefits will be worthwhile to everyone — from meeting participants to the people we serve — and we are grateful for your efforts.”

More information, a training calendar, detailed instructions and more are available here