Explaining an mRNA vaccine with Star Wars

Originally published at: Explaining an mRNA vaccine with Star Wars | Boing Boing


That’s no virus…


This is a brilliant comic, and something I think more people need to understand about vaccination – you will hear things like that it weakens your immune system and so on, when it works by doing exactly the opposite.

But somehow, it feels weird to me to have Vader stealing Palpatine’s line. And since when is he in charge anyway? What happened to Tarkin?


So how does the immune system distinguish between ‘normal stuff’ (technical term) made by our cells and ‘scary stuff’ (another technical term) made by our cells? In order to attack the latter but not the former…? (“well, it’s never seen a spike protein before, right?, so it doesn’t appear ‘local’.” “so anything ‘new’ is attacked?” “yes, but no, often, maybe”)


So, according to the 3 hours of immunology course that I followed online, there are two mechanisms.

For the innate immune system, the Human Leukocyte Antigen system marks all self-cells, and cells that do not exhibit it are considered non-self.

For the adaptive immune system, cells produced in the bone marrow randomly mutate to potentially attack anything, but they are immature and not capable of reacting to anything. They then migrate to the thymus, where they are tested; the ones that attack the self are killed, and only the ones that show no response are allowed to mature.


Also, it doesn’t always distinguish, there are several known autoimmune disorders.


I love that!!! Immediately printed it out to hand to patients with questions. XKCD is the best.


Simple answer is, it does not always. That is how autoimmune diseases arise. But generally, it does a very good job of discriminating the “normal” from the “oh shit.” Immune responses are incredibly complex and involve a multitude of checkpoints. In fact, the most recent wave of incredibly effective anticancer drugs are classified as “checkpoint inhibitors” and function by removing some of the safety devices from the immune response. Needless to say, autoimmune complications are the most common side-effect of these things. Longer answer is that science is really hard, and immunology is its own specialty for a reason.


Unfortunately, Tarkin is completely unrecognisable to the general public when rendered as a stick figure. Randall had to go for recognition over accuracy to get the point across. Stick Darth Vader = real bad guy doomball, generic stick figure = maybe they’re still attacking the fake one?


No, that one’s just called Star Wars.

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