An Interview With a Scientist!

Sunde White illustrates a cell and covid for her interview with a biologist, her dad!


I know it seems weird that we got a Covid vaccine developed so fast and that it feels scary and hard to trust but truth be told, genius scientists like Nobel Prize winners Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna developed the technology that made way for this safe vaccine way back in 2012. So when Covid came along, modern science was ready for it and used the technology to develop a very effective vaccine very quickly.

But for extra reassurance, I interviewed my dad who has been a scientist for 50 years! His  work focuses on cells and cell walls, which is convenient for this topic because viruses invade the immune system by breaking through cell walls and reproducing their disgustingness inside the cells before the immune system even knows what is happening.

Well, I’m just an artist so let’s let my dad, Dr.Stephen H. White explain why he was totally comfortable getting the vaccine, why it’s safe and what it does.  I understood pretty much everything he said so I feel like you will too.  Please enjoy this vaccine and Covid info from the mouth of a real scientist!

  1. What type of scientist are you? What is your official job title, if you have one?

I’m a biophysicist.  My job title is Professor of Physiology & Biophysics at the University of California, Irvine.

  1. How long have you been doing science?

I’ve been doing science since I received my PhD in 1969.  That’s more than 50 years!

  1. Why should anyone believe what you have to say about science, vaccines, viruses or cells?

I have extensive understanding of the scientific method and the progress of scientific research.  The scientific method demands experimental proof of ideas.  You can’t fake it!  I read the scientific literature.  While I am not an expert in viruses, I read articles in scientific journals about viruses and cell biology research published by people who are experts.

5.What has been the focus of your research during your career?

Most of my work has focused on the structure of cell membranes.  Membranes surround every cell.  Membranes keep the inside of cells separated from the outside world.  Without membranes to control what can enter and leave cells, life would not be possible.

  1. Can you please explain your research in the least sciency way possible so my dumb brain can understand it?

The basic fabric of the membrane is a double layer of lipid molecules, called a lipid bilayer.  Very few molecules can cross into the cell because of the lipid bilayer.  Thousands of protein molecules embedded in the bilayer provide exquisite control of the entrance and exit of molecules that are essential for cell life.  My research focuses on how cells make these proteins and insert them into the bilayer membrane.

7.How are viruses involved in your research?

Viruses must cross the cell membrane to gain access to the cell interior where they can take control of the cell in order to reproduce within it.

  1. Was your research ever connected to Hiv/AIDS research?

Not directly

  1. Does that research inform your thinking about COVID? How so?

COVID virus particles must latch onto the cell membrane, ultimately penetrating it so that the virus can reproduce.

  1. How could you possibly know anything about vaccines?

I have a broad understanding of biology, including human anatomy and physiology.  I also understand how vaccines work to stimulate the production of antibodies that kill invading organisms.

  1. Did you get vaccinated?


  1. Were you worried or scared to get vaccinated?

NO, never.  I have received many vaccinations over the years against childhood diseases, smallpox, and polio.  They have protected me.

  1. Why did you feel comfortable getting the vaccine?

I felt completely comfortable because of the years of research done by many scientists.  I got vaccinated as soon as I could.

  1. What is DNA?

DNA contains the information necessary to produce the protein molecules of cells that determine how cells work and how they assemble to form tissues such as muscle, skin, and internal organs.

  1. What is RNA?

DNA contains information about every type of protein in the body.  But to act on the information, cells first produce RNA molecules based on the DNA sequence that guide ribosomes to produce all the proteins that make up cells.

  1. How do viruses take over the body? Like how does it get in and over power the immune system?

Once inside cells, the virus’s DNA or, in the case of COVID its RNA, takes over the manufacture of proteins by the ribosomes to make new virus particles faster than the body can get rid of them via the body’s immune system.

  1. So, in simple terms, can you please explain how the COVID vaccine works?

                The covid vaccine causes the cells that they enter to produce virus proteins in small amounts.  These small amounts, while not harmful, alert the body’s immune system to produce antibodies against the foreign COVID proteins.  The body remembers the instructions for making the antibodies.  If a real COVID virus enters a cell, the cell is able to produce antibodies quickly to kill the virus before it is able to reproduce in quantities large enough to do harm.

  1. Everyone on the interwebs is wondering the following things:

-Can the vaccine change your DNA? Why or why not?

No.  The vaccine never interacts with the DNA.

-Can it make you sterile? Why or why not?

No.  It only stimulates cells to produce antibodies to very particular proteins comprising the virus.  It’s impossible for antibodies to recognize proteins involved in the production of sperm or eggs.

-Does it have the power to make men’s testicles giant? Why or why not?

No.  Same reason as the previous question.

-Would it be able to kill you?  Why or Why not?

No.  The vaccine targets only proteins that the virus produces.  I cannot think of any scenario that could cause death.

  1. What is in the shot? Like literally what is the liquid in the shot? Can that harm you?  Is it like saline or something?  Why do they need to have that extra liquid?

It’s basically a salt solution containing some detergent-like molecules to keep COVID vaccine RNA molecules in solution.  All components of the vaccine have been rigorously tested to be certain that none of the components are harmful to humans.

  1. What would you say to someone that truly wants to get vaccinated but is just scared?

Don’t be.  The science of vaccine design and production has been rigorously tested.  Most people have been vaccinated for many different viruses, such as smallpox, polio, mumps, and measles.  The COVID vaccine is not at all dangerous.  It has been rigorously tested by the Food & Drug administration.

21.Why is it important that everyone, even young people that probably won’t die of Covid, get vaccinated?

A young, healthy person might have only a mild case of COVID, but they can pass the virus on to older, weaker people like their grandparents.  While COVID might not kill the young healthy person, older, weaker people are at huge risk.  So, vaccinations ultimately protect friends and relatives by preventing the spread of the virus.

  1. Were you alive during the Polio outbreak?


  1. Was that scary?

Very scary.  Parents worried constantly about their children catching polio.

  1. Did anyone you know get Polio?

Yes, one of my best friends who lived across the street from me got polio.

  1. Did you take the Polio vaccine? Did everyone take it?

My father, a public health officer, ran one of the earliest clinical trials of the vaccine.  Of course, I took it.  We celebrated the invention of the vaccine and got vaccinated as soon as possible.  That’s why polio has vanished as a threat in the U.S.  Polio now exists in only a few less developed countries.  The World Health Organization is working hard to make sure the inhabitants of these countries are vaccinated.  Eventually polio, like smallpox, will vanish from the earth.

  1. Did anyone you know refuse the Polio vaccine?


27.Any last thoughts or comments you’d like to share regarding COVID, the COVID vaccine or vaccines in general?

The rapid development of the vaccine was possible because of decades of research on viruses in universities and the National Institutes of Health.  When the COVID virus appeared, we were prepared to make the vaccine quickly.  Protect yourself, your family, and your friends by getting vaccinated!