Before the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve probably never heard of mRNA vaccines. Now, however, we have all come to know about this specific type of vaccine through news, social media, and more. As such, it is important to learn about the specifics of the mRNA vaccine, and how it could shape the future of protection against diseases.
Before going into detail about mRNA vaccines, let’s discuss traditional ones. The primary objective of any vaccine is to teach the immune system what a particular virus looks like. Once educated, the immune system will know how to deal with that virus in the future should it ever enter the body. Traditional vaccines come in a number of different forms:
- Inactivated vaccines: Use a dead version of the virus that causes a disease.
- Live-attenuated vaccines: Use a weakened version of the virus that causes a disease.
- Subunit vaccines: Use specific pieces (protein, sugar, shell) of the virus that causes a disease. Toxoid vaccines: Use a toxin created by the virus that causes a disease.
- Viral vector vaccines: Use an altered version of a different virus to provide protection.
To begin with, mRNA vaccines introduce an mRNA sequence (the instructions that tell a cell what to produce) to the body, which then causes the cells to create the protein of a virus that causes a disease. Scientists had to go through 30 years of painstaking research in order to make mRNA vaccine technology viable:
- Had to learn how to alter mRNA so it doesn’t produce a violent response in the immune system.
- Had to learn how to make immune system cells absorb the mRNA as it passed through the body.
- Had to learn how to make these cells produce large amounts of the protein of the virus in order for mRNA to provide protection..
- Had to learn how to enclose mRNA instructions inside of extremely small capsules so it did not get destroyed as it passed through the body.
Implications For The Future:
- mRNA vaccines are easier and cheaper to create than traditional vaccines.
- Production is done in laboratories that can easily be standardized, allowing for a quick response to unexpected outbreaks.
- mRNA vaccines are safer than traditional vaccines since mRNA doesn’t introduce an actual virus to the body.
- mRNA vaccines can generate a stronger immune response compared to traditional vaccines.
- mRNA vaccines can be used to treat certain types of cancer that create harmful proteins.
- mRNA vaccines can be used to treat diseases that prevent the creation of beneficial proteins.
All of these features ensure that mRNA vaccines will have a greater impact in our lives for the foreseeable future.