Beth Israel presentation to explore how vaccines work

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Mark Schenerman
Mark Schenerman (Courtesy of Mark Schenerman)

Can vaccines mutate a person’s DNA?

This is the sort of concern Mark Schenerman, a member of Beth Israel Congregation who holds a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Florida, hopes to address at the synagogue’s March 31 informational seminar “What are vaccines and how do they work?”

“People hear about vaccines every day, and there’s a lot of information out there,” said Schenerman, the event’s main speaker and a resident of Reisterstown. “Some of it is good information, some of it is misinformation.

“So what I’d like to do is give people a clear sense of what vaccines are,” continued Schenerman. “Particularly messenger RNA vaccines, because those were the first to be able to try to address the COVID-19 pandemic, and then give them the sense of what vaccines are doing once they’re injected in their body.”

While the virtual discussion will be on vaccines in general, toward the end there will be a special emphasis on the COVID-19 vaccines, Schenerman said. He added that it won’t be a “deep dive” into the science and technology of vaccines, and instead focus on providing everyday laymen with a sense of how they work.

Schenerman had the original idea for the event after talking to a number of friends and noting just how much misinformation there was regarding vaccines, he said. Some of the questions he would often hear repeated included those on why boosters are necessary, what side effects vaccines have, what is herd immunity and why people should not wait for it. Others expressed concern over how messenger RNA is a relatively new technology and asked him whether it might infiltrate their DNA and mutate them.

As Schenerman’s wife, Amy Bober-Schenerman, is a vice president on Beth Israel’s board, she brought the idea for some type of educational program to the synagogue’s attention and discussed with them the best way to impart the knowledge Schenerman had to give to the community. Beth Israel chose to make the event a part of their Shleimut initiative, aimed at promoting health, wellness and healing.

After defining what a vaccine is, Schenerman plans to discuss how the immune system responds to infections. He will then discuss the different types of vaccines available to prevent infections, including the COVID-19 vaccines.

One crucial part of the way vaccines work involves what Schenerman called the humoral response, which recognizes an infection as a foreign entity and generates antibodies to help fight it.

“A vaccine is designed to stimulate your immune system so that your body will have a specific immune response against the infectious agent,” Schenerman said. “So in the case of COVID it’s a virus. … So your body needs to be able to recognize that virus as foreign, and then mount an immune response against that virus.

“The way vaccines work is to specifically stimulate your immune system so your immune system will, first of all, generate antibodies, and antibodies are very specific against [a] particular portion of the virus,” Schenerman continued, adding that the effectiveness of a COVID vaccine is often measured in the number of antibodies it generates. “In this case it’s the spike protein that’s most important. … So when a COVID vaccine is injected into your body, your body will create antibodies against the spike protein. But that’s just one part of the immune response.”

Schenerman hoped that attendees would leave the presentation with a better understanding of what vaccines are, of how they are very safe and effective, and of why they are the best health care value available to them and the best way for people to protect themselves from common infectious diseases.

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