Behind the Vac-scenes

GOING VIRAL

Immunology 101

Vaccines are one of the most important medical breakthroughs in human history. In fact, the WHO estimates that immunisation prevents about 2–3 million deaths a year. With all the talk about the COVID-19 vaccine trials right now, we thought we’d take a look at what actually goes into a vaccine and how they’re made safe for use in human beings.

How to make your own vaccines

(Just kidding, please don’t try this at home)

If you don’t already know, a vaccine works by training your body to identify and eliminate a disease that you’ve never had before. At its most basic level, a vaccine really only needs 4 main components

The first is the active agent in the vaccine. Here, we need a form of the virus — which can’t actually give us the disease itself — that teaches the body what it should be looking out for and fighting against. This could be a weakened version of the virus or just a part of it. 

Next, the ingredient that forms the bulk of the vaccine — good ol’ water. 

Thirdly, we need something called an adjuvant, a substance that helps boost the body’s immune response. One commonly used adjuvant is aluminium. (This may sound scary, but the amount used in vaccines is pretty miniscule. And aluminium can actually be found naturally in drinking water and even breast milk!)

The last thing we need to make a vaccine is a preservative that keeps the vaccine clean and safe. If you’ve spoken to an anti-vaxxer recently, they might have mentioned that vaccines aren’t safe because they contain mercury. Well, that anti-vaxxer probably didn’t do their research. While methyl-mercury does cause mercury poisoning, the preservative substance used in vaccines is ethyl-mercury. 

To put things in perspective: a can of tuna contains way more mercury than a vaccine — and unless you’re eating canned tuna all day everyday, you’re probably fine.

Testing, testing 1, 2, 3

Wondering why the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t ready yet? To be frank, it’s going much faster than it usually does. 

Creating a vaccine can take a long time because of the extensive need for evaluation and testing. Right at the beginning of the process, immunologists must conduct experiments in order to select the right active agent as the basis for the vaccine. After that comes animal testing (which sounds bad, but is still a necessary step). After finally testing on animals successfully, there are still 3 phases in human vaccine trials to complete.

As we all know, a much-needed COVID-19 vaccine is coming to the world very soon — so hang in there, and definitely give yourself a pat on the back for learning a little bit about the making of a vaccine!

SNIPPETS

5 Singaporean stories to catch up on

1️⃣  A walk in the park — A new therapeutic garden has opened in Punggol Waterway Park.

2️⃣  Using protection: After contracting COVID-19 in March, a Singaporean woman has just given birth to a baby with COVID-19 antibodies.

3️⃣  Intellect: Created by Singaporeans, this app to improve mental health has just reached 1,000,000 users.

4️⃣ Almost too good to be true — Researchers at NUS have found a protein that increases muscle strength without the need for exercise.

5️⃣ Foreign freedom: Some health experts are recommending that the strict movement regulations for foreign workers be relaxed.

And 5 facts to spice up your life:

1️⃣  Are you a fan of soap operas? Surveys show that they are helping people identify their mental health issues.

2️⃣  Ditch the digital detox! Research shows that high smartphone usage doesn’t correlate to poor mental health.

3️⃣ Time for some brain training! The brain is the fattiest organ in our bodies.

4️⃣ Nuts for fruits? Studies show that eating dried fruits might be connected to better overall health.

5️⃣ From syringes to baby bottles: Here are 7 Native American inventions that are still used in healthcare today.

SWEET, SWEET REVENGE

Best served cold

The term bedtime procrastination was coined in 2014 by Dutch researchers to mean going to sleep late, basically for no good reason. However, this phrase has recently been added to, and it’s been making the rounds as “revenge bedtime procrastination”. If you’ve heard of revenge spending or revenge travel, this is kind of the same thing.

It’s a byproduct of China’s infamous 996 schedule — essentially working from 9AM to 9PM, 6 days a week. While not all of us may have such busy work schedules, we all tend to do a little revenge bedtime procrastination. 

Picture this — you’ve just come home from work, it’s late, and you’re exhausted. After eating and showering, it’s (sadly) already time for bed. But who wants to go to work, come home and go straight to sleep, just to wake up in the morning and go right back to work? This is where revenge bedtime procrastination comes in.

A little bit of “Me Time”

Everyone needs some personal time after a long day at work. But if you’re working most of the day, you’re going to have to find that time somewhere else. For most people, this means sacrificing sleep in order to watch something on Netflix, catch up on a podcast, or even just scroll through social media. So it’s a bit of a conundrum, really — having time just for you is always great, but when the cost is sleep deprivation, it becomes a little more difficult to justify staying up so late.

Cultural reset

In a time when we should all be at peak health, sleep deprivation can be pretty dangerous. From lowered awareness to increased risk of certain diseases, a lack of sleep has been proven over and over to be bad for us. Perhaps most pertinently for the current situation, inadequate amounts of sleep can negatively affect our immune systems.

Unfortunately, revenge bedtime procrastination is a problem that’s not easily solved. As individuals, it’s pretty hard for us to create flexibility in our work schedules. In Singapore, various work-life strategies are in place but it’s still one of the most overworked cities in the world. We can only hope that our work culture changes for the better at some point in the future. So for now, dear readers, just take advantage of your off days when you need them and do try to get some sleep.

Still having issues with getting proper sleep? Here’s The Ultimate Guide to Sleep Disorders in Singapore.

SHOWER THOUGHTS

Weird & Wonderful

  1. To keep your eyes peeled is highly discouraged by optometrists.
  2. Picking your nose is like cleaning an air filter.
  3. Wolverine and Deadpool could make a fortune selling and regenerating their organs.
  4. By applying moisturizer, you too become the moisturizer.
  5. Wearing a mask has drastically reduced instances of accidental bug swallowing.
HEALTH HACKS

Beating diabetes from birth

It is estimated that 400,000 people in Singapore have diabetes and a third of that number don’t even know that they have diabetes. Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, the chief scientist at MOH, has recently made a recommendation that diabetes prevention begins before birth.

Of course, what he really means is that women must take extra precaution during pregnancy. More than 6000 Singaporean women suffer from gestational diabetes every year. While the condition often resolves itself after pregnancy, there is an increased risk of diabetes later in life for both mother and child if the condition is not well-managed.

Since gestational diabetes doesn’t really have any symptoms, the first step is to be aware of its risk factors. These include being over 35 years old, obesity, and a family history of diabetes (a more extensive list can be found here). 

Fortunately, testing for gestational diabetes is often part and parcel of being a pregnant mother in Singapore, with the screening test typically being offered at week 24 to 28 of pregnancy.

If you’re not a pregnant mother in Singapore, Professor Tan still recommends that you be wary of your risk of developing diabetes. In fact, Singapore has loads of programmes to help Singaporeans manage their diabetes, and prevent its onset completely with SingHealth’s War on Diabetes.

While you’re at it, check out our article debunking common myths about diabetes, and maybe read up on how TCM can help with diabetes too!

Vanessa

Vanessa is a go-getter and knowledge-seeker with way too many hobbies. On weekends, she can be found enjoying a lie-in and pretending she doesn't have anything else she should be doing.