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COVID-19 Vaccines – How do they work?

Graphs of antibody responses after exposure to coronavirus

Students learn that vaccination or a previous coronavirus infection reduces the risk of severe Covid-19.

They learn how the immune system responds to a coronavirus infection and analyze how this response differs after a first vs. second exposure to the coronavirus.

Then, students analyze the biological effects of an mRNA vaccine and develop an evidence-based explanation of how vaccination protects against severe Covid-19.

The Student Handout is available in the first two attached files and as a Google doc designed for use in distance learning and online instruction. The Teacher Notes, available in the third and fourth attached files, provide instructional suggestions and background information and explain how this activity is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards. The PowerPoint, available in the last attached file, shows recent trends in Covid-19 hospitalization and mortality for vaccinated vs. unvaccinated people in the US.

coronavirus vaccine SHO .docx2.58 MB
coronavirus vaccine SHO .pdf736.84 KB
coronavirus vaccine TN.docx2.55 MB
coronavirus vaccine TN.pdf1020.58 KB
Covid-19 Vaccines.pptx728.57 KB


iwaldron's picture

2022 revision

I have updated the Teacher Notes to incorporate relevant recent research findings. I have also revised parts of the Student Handout to improve student engagement and understanding.

Ann Dixon's picture

2 minute video animation

We recommend this animated video from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Vaccine Makers Project:

iwaldron's picture

Another useful video on mRNA vaccines

I also recommend “How mRNA Vaccines Work – Simply Explained” (


iwaldron's picture

November 2021 revision

The Teacher Notes have been extensively revised to incorporate new information from the abundant recent research on vaccines and immune responses. In addition, I have revised the Student Handout, including clarified questions and improved figures to enhance student understanding.

iwaldron's picture

March 2021 revision

The Teacher Notes have been substantially revised to include major developments through March 23, 2021. In the Student Handout, the main updates are inclusion of more recent references for the student research project.

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