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Globally, more than 17 million sleeves have rolled up for the first COVID-19 vaccinations, and Australia is set to launch its program next month

Like most adult thrusts, these vaccines – including those developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca and Pfizer and BioNTech – are injected into the deltoid: the thick, fleshy muscle of your upper arm

Despite using a range of different technologies, all COVID-19 vaccines aim to do the same thing: introduce our immune systems to antigens – certain parts of a disease-causing organism that the body uses to identify the intruder – in order to target them prop up defenses against the disease by the wayside

Why inject into muscles? Why not in fat just under the skin, right in a vein, or even in the nose, when that’s where we are most likely to run into the virus?

Nasal vaccines are approved in some countries – for example, the United States, where some people can get the flu vaccine if a mist sprays on their nose

They are not available in Australia, however, and nasal sprays are unlikely to adopt the generally preferred method of vaccination, at least not in short

Aside from knowing the safety and effectiveness of injected vaccines, we have set up large manufacturing and logistic chains to manufacture and distribute batches, especially now that COVID-19 vaccination programs are being implemented

First off, unlike the layer of fat just below our skin, the muscle has an excellent blood supply to distribute the vaccine, says Joanna Groom, immunology researcher at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

The muscle contains and recruits immune cells, so-called dendritic cells, which quickly absorb antigens and stick them to their surface like a flag

Dendritic cells then migrate to lymph nodes and slide into them, “which are like large meeting points for the immune system,” says Dr Groom

There they meet T and B cells – white blood cells that defend our body against certain pathogens

A dendritic cell shows its flag to T and B cells until it finds those who recognize the antigen, then signals them to multiply and, in the case of B cells, starts making antibodies

“In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, this amplification means they can block SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins so that the virus can no longer get into a cell,” says Dr Groom

“But they are also starting to form that pool of long-lasting memories of what we really want in a vaccine”

Muscle is a bit like goldilocks tissue used to deliver vaccines to our immune cells: not too slowly, but not too fast either

Not only does the muscle provide a pool of dendritic cells, but it also acts as a “deposit” in which the vaccine can linger for a while and be used over a longer period of time

According to Dr Groom an extended training unit for the immune system, which “should lead to a maximum activation of the immune system”

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“There are other non-specific immune cells that can mop up and break down the vaccine before it has a chance to get to the lymph node,” says Dr Groom

“Then there is no way to share this information with B and T cells”

Injecting vaccines into muscles is not only easier, but also has very few serious side effects and overall less inflammation than vaccine in a vein

Most vaccines consist of two parts: the virus-specific antigen component and a substance that creates a stronger immune response called an adjuvant

“Adjuvants can sometimes lead to general inflammation, more intravenously than in the tissue,” says Dr Groom

Dr Groom says that while common side effects from intramuscular vaccination can be literally painful for a few days, they are a sign that your immune system is doing what it should

“There are actually some side effects from vaccinations that you might want, such as your arm turning a little red or your lymph nodes swelling a little – and that is actually your immune system”

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World News – AU – Have you ever wondered why vaccines are poked up your upper arm?