What is the COVID-19 Vaccine?

What is the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Introduction to vaccines:

Vaccines are an integral part of ensuring immunity against diseases that have wrought havoc on human populations prior to today. Some of the most famous vaccines include Smallpox, MMR (Mumps, Measles, and Rubella), HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), and polio. Typically vaccines contain an inactive or weakened form of the pathogen (disease-causing agent), allowing us to develop an immunity to the disease with minimal side-effects and symptoms. The COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-19) Pfizer vaccine differs, in that it is an mRNA vaccine, more on that later. This will attempt to provide a brief explanation of how the vaccine was developed so fast, what it contains and how it induces immunity.

How was it made so fast?

Many people are alarmed by the speed at which the COVID-19 vaccine was developed. However, this needn’t be a point of worry. COVID-19 research has perhaps been one of the most well-funded area within medical research, of our time (Ball, 2020). This is due to both private and public funds being donated to stop the spread of the virus which has robbed us, for the most part, of our freedom. As a result, the speed at which research could be conducted increased, due to funds to afford laboratory reagents. It is important to note also, that clinical trials could be conducted on a mass scale with the huge uptake of volunteers. Therefore, the combination of funding and uptake of volunteers decreased the time it would have taken to develop the vaccine. In America, at the 1 million vaccination point only 3 have demonstrated an allergic reaction, so this shouldn’t be seen as a threat. Furthermore, there are guidelines in place to prevent and treat anaphylaxis (severe allergic reactions), should it occur (Cdc.gov, 2020).

What is in it?

Sometimes, the ingredients of vaccines are more intimidating when left as is. Minimal explaination can dispel anxiety regarding the contents of a vaccine. The ingredients disclosed on the FDA website (Fda.gov, 2020) are as follows:

  • mRNA – message to tell our body to produce the COVID-19 spike protein
  • Lipids – helps the mRNA enter our cells – our cell’s membranes are also lipids
  • Potassium chloride – KCl – naturally found in the body
  • Monobasic potassium phosphate – found in the body
  • Sodium chloride – NaCl – table salt – also naturally found in the body
  • Dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate – found in foods and water softening treatment
  • Sucrose – Table Sugar

As you can see from above, the components of the vaccine are not as intimidating as thought. Many of the components are found in our everyday life, and in many cases, we consume more of some components in our diet than in a vaccine.

What does it do?

The vaccine, as mentioned before, works differently in our bodies. Traditional vaccines trigger resistance through exposure to the pathogen. In the case of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, it introduces mRNA, which our body turns into the COVID-19 spike protein (the protein responsible for COVID-19 recognising and infecting our cells, Figure 1; Huang et al., 2020).

Figure 1 – BioRender schematic showing the COVID-19 spike protein (Diana Sofia Mollocana Yanez), and the use of the spike protein to enter our cells during infection (Hartenian et al., 2020).

mRNA is naturally found in our cells and is made from our DNA as a message which is made into a protein that usually performs a function, or results in a trait (Figure 2A; Hargrove and Schmidt, 1989). Therefore, this vaccine is using a process our body performs all the time. However, when the COVID-19 spike protein is made from the mRNA in the vaccine (Figure 2B), the body recognises it as non-self, starts an immune response and we generate immunity as a result.

A                                                                                         B


Figure 2 – A) Normal process of protein production in our cells B) Process of spike protein production through vaccine’s introduction of mRNA which tells the cell to produce the spike protein, which triggers an immune response, and subsequent immunity. Schematics made on BioRender.

There are some common conspiracies, that this vaccine enters our genome, or it contains a chip for government tracking. To dispel these, mRNA cannot enter DNA (thus, our genome), as DNA and RNA are similar, but different molecules, which cannot stably co-exist as one. Furthermore, RNA cannot become DNA without an enzyme not found in our body. Also, in the impossible circumstance, it does become DNA, it cannot enter our genome without identical DNA sequences on either side of the gene. As for the chip, there is nothing more I can say than this is false. If you are concerned, however, your smartphone tracks your GPS, your internet searches, and monitors who you contact, the government already has the means to track you, so a chip in a vaccine would not be efficient. It is concerning that people are turning against vaccines which have helped to increase life expectancy, and are the right first step in ending the pandemic and returning to everyday life.

DNA vs. RNA — Differences & Similarities - Expii

Figure 3 – Schematic demonstrating the molecular difference between DNA and RNA, in this case RNA has a riobose sugar with a hydroxide group (OH) on the 2nd Carbon. Whereas, DNA’s deoxyribose has a hydrogen (H) at the 2nd Carbon. Additionally, DNA and RNA contain the bases: Adenine, Guanine, and Cytosine. However, DNA contains Thymine, whilst RNA, contains Uracil – an altered thymine. Image taken from (Slizewska, G., n.d)


  • Ball, P. (2020), ‘The lightning-fast quest for COVID vaccines-and what it means for other diseases’. Nature.


  • Cdc.gov. (2020). ‘Management Of Anaphylaxis At COVID-19 Vaccination Sites’ | CDC. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/info-by-product/pfizer/anaphylaxis-management.html>


  • Fda.gov. (2020). ‘FACT SHEET FOR RECIPIENTS AND CAREGIVERS’. [online] Available at: <https://www.fda.gov/media/144414/download#:~:text=The%20Pfizer%2DBioNTech%20COVID%2D19%20Vaccine%20includes%20the%20following%20ingredients,)%2C%20potassium%20chloride%2C%20monobasic%20potassium>


  • Hargrove, J.L. and Schmidt, F.H., (1989). ‘The role of mRNA and protein stability in gene expression’. The FASEB Journal3(12), pp.2360-2370.


  • Hartenian, E., Nandakumar, D., Lari, A., Ly, M., Tucker, J.M. and Glaunsinger, B.A., (2020). ‘The molecular virology of Coronaviruses’. Journal of Biological Chemistry295(37), pp.12910-12934.


  • Huang, Y., Yang, C., Xu, X.F., Xu, W. and Liu, S.W., (2020). ‘Structural and functional properties of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein: potential antivirus drug development for COVID-19’. Acta Pharmacologica Sinica41(9), pp.1141-1149.


  • Slizewska, G., (n.d). ‘DNA Vs. RNA — Differences & Similarities – Expii’. [online] expii. Available at: <https://www.expii.com/t/dna-vs-rna-differences-similarities-10205>
Central Birmingham Winter Run – 5K

Central Birmingham Winter Run – 5K

One of the luxuries of lockdown has been a total absence of anything to do. Nothing is open, no theatre shows are on. Mercifully, we have been spared the horror show that are pantomimes, though I imagine they will return with a vengeance. I could have spent lockdown getting ‘fat and sassy’ (see below embedded video for reference, if outraged. NB: the remix video is excellently sassy), but I felt an uncontrollable desire to go outside. Since we were largely allowed to do so, I began going on more and more runs. In traditional fashion in this blog, I shall now recommend to you a run which can be done by people of all physical abilities throughout the centre of my favourite city.


The run, which is embedded below, can be started at any point on the trail below. It is aimed to take in what I consider to be the key highlights of the city centre.


Beginning then at the University of Law (though as I say you can start anywhere on the loop), You would run down the hill towards Snow Hill. You can take in the superb St Chad’s Catholic Cathedral, which is a typical Birmingham red brick building. You would then cross the St Chad’s Queensway and turn right on Colmore Row. This allows you to run past the glorious St Phillip’s Cathedral from the other Christian denomination.

From there, run to Victoria Square where you can take in Birmingham’s iconic Town Hall and Council Building, both of which are jewels in the Birmingham crown. From there, take a left down Chamberlain Square, taking in the staggering Birmingham Museum and Art gallery as well as one of the Joseph Chamberlain Clock, which is now housed in  an open square with refurbished paving. Thence, run past the Birmingham Library, which is the building in the cover image of this post.

The new face of Symphony Hall

This is the difficult bit. Walking through the ICC will give you a chance for a quick break and enjoy an, in my opinion, underrated building in Birmingham. This is currently closed for refurbishment of Symphony Hall at the time of writing. My advice would be to run down the right side of the ICC if this is still the case when you undertake your run.

The map is wrong here as Google is not aware of the multitudinous pathways around the Birmingham canal network. You can run directly from the bridge across the ICC (towards Pitcher and Piano) and go on in a straight line past the Ikon Gallery. There is a staggering collection there at the moment which I managed to see before the latest lockdown. Highly recommended.

Turning right towards Brindley Place, you will enter the last stretch of this run. Get on the canal behind the Sealife Centre and run all the way to St Paul’s Square. This is flat and sometimes down hill. I would echo Matthew’s recommendation about slowing down when running downhill. This way you do not use up energy stores trying to match the pace when the path flattens out. So much of running is about conserving energy.

Finally, after the breathtaking underside of the Emerald Living Space, a building which sits over the canal over shortly after Newhall Street, turn left and come off the canal. This is another aspect of the map which is wrong on account of Google’s seeming anti canal prejudice. You can get off after the underside of the Emerald Living Space. Just watch out for the huge white pillars which support the building and turn left here.

Finally, run past St Paul’s ‘Other Christian Denomination’ Church, up Caroline Street and rejoin the University of Law . This completes the run.

Gratuitous picture of St Thomas’ Church, not included in the run

I hope that those of you who undertake this run enjoy it. Others I hope have enjoyed the commentary on highlights of central Birmingham. It goes without saying that this is an equally lovely walk, weather permitting.

Broadway Tower – Iconic Folly, Worcestershire

Broadway Tower – Iconic Folly, Worcestershire

Broadway Tower is a beautiful folly which sits atop Beacon Hill, the second highest hill in the Costwolds, after Cleeve Hill. This tower was the brainchild of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and built by James Wyatt for Lady Godiva between 1798-1799. Lady Godiva wondered whether she could see a beacon from her house in Worcester, some 22 miles away. She must have been chuffed that she could in fact see the beacon clearly. We visited this wonderful monument following another Walking Englishman Walk. Walking outside was at the time one of the view government sanctioned ways to meet up to people without falling foul of the law.


In the late 1950s, Broadway Tower monitored nuclear fallout in England; an underground Royal Observer Corps bunker was built 50 yards (46 m) from the Tower. Manned continuously from 1961 and designated as a master post, the bunker was one of the last such Cold War bunkers constructed and, although officially stood down in 1991, the bunker is now one of the few remaining fully equipped facilities in England. Wikipedia

The view from Broadway Tower was quite stunning. We went on one of the last days of summer and could see as far as sixteen counties at once, not sixteen countries as I pronounced when there. Please see below a snap shot of the view with Matthew and Phil, suitably distanced, blocking it.

Matthew and Phillip going down

Interestingly, around 1870, Sir Thomas Phillipps, aniquary and book collector, used the tower as his printing press. You’ll be glad to know he collected the largest collection of manuscripts in the 19th Century. He spent almost all of the substantial estate he inherited from his father on vellum, a sort of calf skin paper. the Magna Carta, for example, is written on vellum. Please see below another snap shot of the glorious view from Broadway Tower.

In summation, I hope you have enjoyed this brief history of a wonderful monument with a magnificent view. I have had to pinch the cover photo from the official website because we arrived just after 11am which meant that the hordes of tourists had descended and I would not be able to post any of the photographs we took for fear of data protection breaches. But to appease the photo hungry among you, please find attached one final picture of this excellent view atop this monument. I hope you will visit. There is a museum in this tower now but sadly due to the nature of our walk we were unable to visit it.

John Wick – Guns, Cars and Explosions, the Perfect Isolation Flick

John Wick – Guns, Cars and Explosions, the Perfect Isolation Flick

Have you ever asked yourself the question; is there such a thing as artful violence? John Wick answers this violently in the affirmative. Perhaps I am late to the party reviewing this film, but I was so astounded by John Wick that I could not but extol its virtues. Directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (the former being Reeves’ stunt double in the Matrix), this film offers excitement, excellent acting and explosive beautifully co-ordinated fight scenes.

There are, broadly speaking, two ways to go when it comes to fight sequences. The first is to bust a few moves then use lively camerawork and quick edits to make an indifferent pugilist look like The Grandmaster. The more challenging route is to choreograph an extended sequence, sit back, frame a nice wide shot and let the actor carry the can. Given that first-time directors Stahelski and Leitch are both veteran stunt co-ordinators, that fact that they opt for door number two is not surprising. The assured proficiency with which they conduct John Wick’s symphony of gunplay, however, is. Empire

Interestingly, while both Stahelski and Leitch directed this film, the latter is credited as a producer due to MPA regulations only allowing one director. (It may well be another regulatory body but the point is the same).

In terms of plot, John Wick tells the story of an ex-assassin whose wife passed away and sent him a puppy in lieu of marriage. No, in seriousness, Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), son of mobster Viggo Tarasov (Ian McShane), decides he likes the look of John Wick’s 1969 Mustang. He asks Wick his price “у каждой суки есть цена” to which Wick replies “не эта сука”. I’ll let you translate for yourselves. Iosef, not content to take не эта сука for an answer, decided to storm John Wick’s house, beat him up, murder his new puppy and steal the Mustang. Iosef did not bet on Mr Wick being an ex associate of his father’s and merciless killing machine.

From the use of colour and music to the scenery-chomping by supporting players Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane, these are guys bursting with a love for genre cinema but aren’t too enslaved by affection to let in a little air. There’s a wonderful free spirit with the use of New York City locations that ditches verisimilitude for storytelling. The Surrogates’ Courthouse downtown is actually a Bosch-ian dance club with an interior of Scarface-esque hot tubs? Who in their right mind would disagree! Guardian

Overall I liked this film because it was mindless violence, portrayed beautifully and with some heart. One could look at this film as a vengeance tale for a small puppy, but I see it as a well-crafted ode to the beauty of vengeful violence. Every move in every fight scene is beautifully choreographed and seamlessly executed by Reeves, a veteran of the action movie genre. The plot is hearty and there are some wonderful scenes, most notably in the Red Circle club. I do so hope you will enjoy John Wick, allow him to transport you to a world of wonderful violence, far removed from the current agony in which we find ourselves.


Jean-Étienne Liotard – Lavergne Family Breakfast, Delicious Pastel Painting

Jean-Étienne Liotard – Lavergne Family Breakfast, Delicious Pastel Painting

Jean-Etienne Liotard was one of the most accomplished portrait artists of his time. Born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1702 he went on to have a very successful career, completing most of it in stays in Rome, Istanbul, Paris, Vienna, London and other cities. At the height of his career he was commissioned to represent members of royal families in his respective residences. The masterpiece came to my attention through a recent Guardian article, exploring how the painting was donated to the National Gallery through the UK’s AIL Acceptance in Lieu scheme. This painting was given in exchange for a waiving of a whopping £10 M inheritance tax bill. The government must be thrilled. Let’s explore it further.

Jean-Etienne Liotard was an artist in great demand across Enlightenment Europe and beyond. An eccentric and distinctive portraitist, his work conjures up the magnificence and cultural curiosity of the age in vividly lifelike detail. Royal Academy

This masterpiece represents a tender moment captured between a mother and her daughter having breakfast. the level of attention to detail is astonishing here. Look at the reflection of the tableware from the perfectly lacquered breakfast table. The reflection of the light on the metal pot and the porcelain jug, subtly different from each other, is impressive indeed. Liotard has produced this effect by wetting the pastels and creating lumps to give it form. And look at the reflection of the window pane in the milk jug!

Perhaps the greatest detail is the sheet music in the open drawer in the bottom left hand corner of the painting. Liotard has actually signed his name and the place the painting was made “Liotard, in Lyon, 1754”. Self referential? Yes, but in the most marvellous way.

Observe the tender look the mother is giving her daughter while steadying the saucer, observe the little curls of paper in the daughter’s hair and the concentration with which she is dunking. These paper curls were used to set her hair for the day, further confirming this scene is taking place at breakfast. If you look closely you’ll see that the mother’s finger tips and nails are reflected in the table, which is an extraordinary detail. Also, the cup of coffee into which her daughter is dunking is about to overflow, hence the need for her mother’s steadying hands.

The satin-esque material  of the mother’s dress is resplendently portrayed, especially as contrasted with the simpler ‘smaller’ version of the same dress her daughter is sporting.  Notice the similarity in the cut of both dresses and the ruffles in the sleeves.

The gallery said the level of care with which the still life aspects of the work had been executed was extraordinary. They include unusual layers of thick wet pastel to create the illusion of reflection on the metal coffee pot and Chinese porcelain. The Guardian

Overall I am awed by this work. The fact that a pastel work from 1754 has managed to last nearly 300 years and still be in this remarkable condition. The definition of each constituent part of this painting and the sheer detail Liotard has managed to expose to us is extraordinary. See below for more details on this painting, as told by the National Gallery’s curator for portraits 1600-1800, Francesca Whitlum-Cooper.


Kiyochika Kobayashi – Cat and Lantern, Japanese Fine Art

Kiyochika Kobayashi – Cat and Lantern, Japanese Fine Art

Have I mentioned I’ve been to Japan? Of course, when I went I was what can only be described as a chippy oik (definition here). I neglected to visit any of the sensational art galleries throughout Japan, despite extensive travel throughout the country.  Perhaps I shall make up for this glut with the following post. Kiyochika Kobayashi (1857-1915) was a Ukiyo e painter, a school of Japanese art dedicated to depicting subjects from everyday life, on wood blocks or paintings. Cat and Lantern was a wood block piece.

[Kobayashi was] also referred to as Hoensha, Shinseiro, and others as Betsugo. He didn’t have any particular mentor, but made a friendship with Shimooka Renjo and Kawanabe Kyosai , and also being on close terms with Shibata Zeshin. In 1874 approx., he had a chance to learn the western -style painting under Wirgman, which enabled him to invent Kosenga, a new style of multi-color prints taking in the western -style painting’s technique. He also handled caricature, and in his latest years, left many autographs. Japanese Fine Arts

As you can imagine I fell in love with this woodblock print. 1886 is a little later than my favourite period of art but this is just so delightful. This is a Japanese Bobtail cat, playing with a bamboo cane and a knocked over lantern. The richness of the gold really captures my attention, especially as contrasted with the bell on the cat’s vibrant red collar. Its eyes are fixed on what appears to be a red piece of string leading into the lantern. For a wood block artwork, the light shining both through the lantern and atop the black lantern rim are exceptionally well done. The cat itself is just delightful. Its fur is meticulously rendered, as is its semi pouncing stance. I just adore this wood print piece.

According to Japanese folklore, a Japanese bobtail cat’s tail caught on fire while it was sleeping. Alarmed, the cat ran through the village and began spreading the fire with every flick of its tail. Once the village was reduced to ashes, the Japanese emperor insisted that all cats’ tails should be shortened to prevent a repeat disaster. Pet Insurance

Now in the spirit of contract and compare, see below Tomoo Inagaki’s (1902-180) Black Cat. This was painted around 1940. Inspired by Onchi and Hiratsuka, Inagaki’s cats are modern and stylised. They are almost always in black and grey. Usually modern art will send me into fits of revulsion, but this struck me as unique and quite beautiful. The wide leg stance, made popular before the Tory Power Stance debacle of 2015, the curious gaze and the crudely rendered whiskers add up to a suitable amount of whimsey. Observe the minor disruptions in the fur added around the neck and ear. The choice of shades of beige as the background to this delightful cat are a terrific contrast with the black and grey of the fur. Overall this is an excellent concept for a wood print, flawlessly executed by one of Japan’s great modern artists.

By way of an amusing tangent, please see below the cover of The Best of Emerson Lake and Palmer, which emplys with very same Ukiyo e style to combine a thoroughly modern scene with an ancient setting:

Overall I hope these two feline art works have brought a suitable amount of joy and whimsey into your day. They have certainly made mine better.