Answering Questions About the mRNA Vaccine

Part 1 of 2

The rollout of the Moderna coronavirus vaccines has reached rural areas around Montana, including the Ruby Valley. Healthcare workers and nursing home residents have been the first to receive the vaccine and most of the population should have an opportunity to obtain the first of two doses of the vaccine by the end of April. The only vaccines which have received FDA emergency use authorization to date are produced by Moderna and Pfizer/Bio-N-Tech. Both vaccines use a new technology called messenger RNA (mRNA). What is an mRNA vaccine? Why is it different? Is it safe? How long will protection last? Here are the answers to those questions and a few more, in our two part series.

What is an mRNA vaccine and how is it different from a traditional vaccine?

In answering this question, it’s probably best to start by explaining what a vaccine is. Vaccines train the immune system to identify a virus and generate an immune response to fight it. Traditional vaccine development has been around since 1796 in Europe and as early as 1000CE in China. Traditional vaccines can be very time consuming to create as the virus is grown in a biological material such as hen’s eggs. The virus is then weakened or inactivated and used for the vaccine. Rather than using a weakened or inactivated virus to create vaccines, mRNA vaccines provide cells with the information needed to create proteins that generate an immune response. Once the immune response is generated, the body is prepared to attack a live virus.

mRNA molecules are not alien to the body. They are manufactured naturally in the nucleus of the cell in order to create various proteins. mRNA tells cells in the body how to create specific amino acids which combine to create proteins.