Oct. 13, 2021 -- The chances that unvaccinated family members will be infected or hospitalized with COVID-19 drop sharply if even one family member is vaccinated. The chances are reduced even further with each additional vaccinated or otherwise immune family member, according to new data.

Lead author Peter Nordström, MD, with the Unit of Geriatric Medicine, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden, says the message is important for public health.

"When you vaccinate, you do not just protect yourself but also your relatives,” he says.

Findings were published online on Oct. 11 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers analyzed data from 1,789,728 individuals from 814,806 families from nationwide registries in Sweden. All individuals had acquired immunity either from a previous COVID infection or by being fully vaccinated (i.e., having received two doses of the Moderna, Pfizer, or Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines). The group was considered for inclusion until May 26, 2021.

How Do COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines Work?Some of the COVID-19 vaccines are known as mRNA shots. How are they different from traditional vaccines? And do they contain the real virus?189


SPEAKER: How does a COVID-19

mRNA vaccine work?

COVID vaccines are now


Some of the COVID-19 vaccines

are mRNA vaccines, but what does

this mean?

mRNA vaccines are

different from traditional


mRNA vaccines don't expose you

to any real virus instead,

they're made with messenger

Ribonucleic Acid or mRNA.

This is a type of molecule that

gives instructions to the cell

for how to make different kinds

of proteins.

mRNA molecules are

a natural part of our cells

and how our bodies work.

Researchers have been working

with mRNA vaccines

for many years.

They are made more easily

and safely in a lab

than a vaccine that uses

a virus.

Because of this they can also

be made faster.

The COVID-19 mRNA vaccines

have passed many tests in labs

and in thousands of people,

and meet strict standards

from the FDA.

So how do these vaccines work?

First, a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine

is injected into a muscle

in your upper arm.

Some muscle cells take the mRNA

instructions in the vaccine

and make a harmless piece

of a protein called

a spike protein.

This protein is found

on the outside of the SARS-CoV-2

virus that causes COVID-19.

The muscle cells then destroy

the instructions for how to make

the spike protein.

The mRNA never goes

into the nucleus of your cells

where your DNA is stored.

The newly made spike protein now

sits on the surface

of the muscle cells.

Your immune system senses

the spike protein

as a foreign threat to destroy,

it starts making antibodies

to fight anything

with that spike protein on it.

This will help your body's

immune system recognize

and fight the real virus if it

ever shows up.

It's like recognizing someone

by the hat they wear.

Your body is then

prepared to spot COVID-19

and fight it off before it grows

in your body's cells.

Fast facts to remember

about COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.

They help get your body

ready to fight off the COVID-19

virus before it makes you sick,

they don't use

any live, dead, or weak virus,

they can't give you COVID-19,

they don't affect your DNA.

Want to learn more,

go to cdc.gov to find more

information about mRNA vaccines.

You can also learn more about

how the vaccines were approved

at fda.gov.



From Krames/delivery/aws/e1/19/e1194689-aff0-4d9e-9fd2-2c0084642589/b37084c0-2e1f-4b66-958c-96e7a6c3f4db_krames_activating_health_how_mrna_vaccine_works_021021_,4500k,2500k,1000k,750k,400k,.mp402/10/2021 12:00:0018001200photo of COVID-19 mRNA vaccine/webmd/consumer_assets/site_images/article_thumbnails/video/1800x1200_krames_activating_health_how_mrna_vaccine_works_video.jpg091e9c5e8210a400

Each person with immunity was matched in a 1:1 ratio to a person without immunity from a cohort of individuals with families that had from two to five members. Families with more than five members were excluded because of small sample sizes.

Primarily nonimmune families with one immune family member had a 45% to 61% lower risk of contracting COVID-19.

The risk reduction increased to 75% to 86% when two family members were immune .

It increased to 91% to 94% when three family members were immune, and to 97% with four immune family members.

"The results were similar for the outcome of COVID-19 infection that was severe enough to warrant a hospital stay," the authors wrote. They list as an example that in three-member families in which two members were immune, the remaining nonimmune family member had an 80% lower risk for hospitalization.

Global Implications

Nordström says the team used the family setting because it was more easily identifiable as a cohort with the national registries and because COVID-19 is spread among people in close contact with each other. But the findings have implications for other groups who spend large amounts of time together and for herd immunity, he says.

The findings may be particularly welcome in regions of the world in which vaccination rates are very low. The authors noted that most of the global population has not yet been vaccinated and that "it is anticipated that most of the population in low-income countries will be unable to receive a vaccine in 2021, with current vaccination rates suggesting that completely inoculating 70% to 85% of the global population may take up to 5 years."

Jill Foster, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, MN, says she agrees that the news could encourage countries that have very low vaccination rates.

This study may help motivate areas with few resources to start small.

"Even one is better than zero,” she says, noting that this news could also help ease the minds of families that have immunocompromised members or in which there are children who are too young to be vaccinated.

With these data, people can see there's something they can do to help protect a family member, she says.

Although it's intuitive to think that the more vaccinated people there are in a family, the safer people are, "it's really nice to see the data coming out of such a large dataset,” Foster says.

The authors acknowledge that a limitation of the study is that at the time the study was conducted, the Delta variant was uncommon in Sweden. It is therefore unclear whether the findings regarding immunity are still relevant in Sweden and elsewhere now that the Delta strain is dominant.