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How Do the New Covid-19 Vaccines Work?

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Last updated on August 25, 2021

In response to the devastating Coronavirus pandemic, a select group of pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson has created commercial-ready vaccines in record times. While history has shown that vaccine development usually takes between 5-15 years, billions spent on funding and a global effort allowed them to develop in under a year to fight Covid-19.

However, I was a bit skeptical like many other people regarding how I could trust a vaccine made in such little time. Was it because they cut corners in the development or human trial stages? No. The reason for these record-shattering times is the new mRNA and Adenovirus technologies, which allow for much faster production and efficiency when used.

Traditional vs. mRNA & Adenovirus

Although the technology used in the Covid-19 vaccines is the first of its kind at this scale, all vaccines are based on a common principle. When you get infected with a virus and fight it off, the body develops antibodies, which are tremendously helpful in identifying and killing the virus, should it enter your system again. Traditional vaccines completed this task by injecting a weakened or inactive version of the virus, allowing the body to recognize the composition of the virus without harming the patient. However, this is where the newest Covid-19 vaccines differ from their traditional counterpart. 

Instead of injecting the whole virus, a strand of mRNA(one-half of DNA) enters your cells and signals the ribosomes to create spike proteins, which exist on the virus’ surface. In response, your system develops antibodies, as it thinks Covid-19 is in your system when in reality it is just harmless spike proteins.

With the Adenovirus vaccines, instead of injecting an RNA sequence, it injects a variation of the Coronavirus that is harmless, causing your system to develop antibodies. Although both these new technologies have a similar outcome, Adenovirus vaccines have been used in the past to fight diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV, and Ebola.

Barriers Regarding mRNA Production

Although these vaccines are some of the biggest breakthroughs in scientific history, there is still room for improvement. Because of the fragility of mRNA, it needs to be kept in extremely cold temperatures for long-term storage: about -100 degrees Fahrenheit. Because this is below the typical temperature of freezers found in hospitals and medical facilities, it has served as a small barrier against rapid scaling. However, there will likely be the second generation of mRNA vaccines that solve this very problem.

REFERENCES

McCallum, Katie. “Why the Covid-19 Vaccine Needs to Be Kept so Cold (& What This Means for ITS AVAILABILITY).” Why the COVID-19 Vaccine Needs to Be Kept So Cold | Houston Methodist On Health, http://www.houstonmethodist.org/blog/articles/2020/dec/why-the-covid-19-vaccine-needs-to-be-kept-so-cold/.

Dutta, Dr. Sanchari Sinha. “What Are Adenovirus-Based Vaccines?” News, 10 Mar. 2021, http://www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-Adenovirus-Based-Vaccines.aspx.

Solis-Moreira, Jocelyn. “COVID-19 Vaccine: How Was It Developed so Fast?” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/how-did-we-develop-a-covid-19-vaccine-so-quickly.

“Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology and Inflammation.” How Does a MRNA Vaccine Compare to a Traditional Vaccine? | Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology and Inflammation, 16 Nov. 2020, http://www.vumc.org/viiii/infographics/how-does-mrna-vaccine-compare-traditional-vaccine.

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