mRNA-based Vaccine & Why COVID-19 Vaccine Can Be Developed So Quickly & Effectively
COVID-19 Vaccine & Its Rapid Development
Vaccines in the past take decades to develop because they must go through the rigor of Scientific Research, Clinical Testing, and Large-Scale Manufacturing. COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer or Moderna took 11 months for emergency use! This was not accomplished by shortcuts; the primary reason lays in the use of mRNA technology as a vaccine design that has been developing for decades.
Overview: mRNA is simple and short nucleic acids strands, when properly introduced, they are capable of activating the body’s own cells to generate a systemic response to an imposter invader, alerting the presence of a potential viral pathogen without generating an infection. This is an amazing technology that has enormous potential for treating many other diseases as well.
mRNA-based vaccines differ from the traditional vaccines in that:
1. Traditional Vaccines utilized weaken or inactivated versions of the viruses to trick the body to respond and remember this virus for future attacks
2. Traditional Vaccines tend to be amputated versions of the viruses
3. Both require time and research and unique transport methods to prepare the target virus for helping the body remember it for future attacks.
Here is how mRNA-based Vaccine works:
mRNAs are naturally occurring molecules that encode proteins, this process happens in a factory-like organelle inside the cell known as the ribosomes. These mRNAs don’t contain viral particles and so do not require research from scratch like the conventional vaccine development methods for each new virus.
Scientists modify billions of these mRNAs with the specific proteins they want to target. This protein can be a part of a target virus like the COVID-19. They are completely harmless and really good for training the immune response of our body.
To start, these mRNAs are ferried inside a spherical shell that helps them reach their destination — our cells. Upon arrival, the transport vehicle fuses the cell membranes to allow the deposit of modified mRNA molecules inside the cellular space. These spherical transportation vehicles are actually the result of modern engineering marvels, they are made of biocompatible cell-membrane mimic (nanoparticles) with sugars attached on top for protection and fueling of the transport journey. Due to the delicate state of these biological components (just like how our body maintains a steady temperature to keep all vital organs and molecules from degrading), prior to deploying them into our body, they need to be carefully kept at a cryo-stasis. Therefore, they must be stored at -20 to -80 degrees to prevent these components from breaking down.
Once inside the cellular cytoplasmic space, these short strands of nucleus acids mRNA having the programming to encodes the protein for COVID-19 starts to work (this is a protein that is most identifiable to a virus), but it’s impossible for it to alter our DNA or become a virus and harm us in any way. To modify our DNA in the nucleus, the short and improperly equipped mRNA strands would have to have the fuel and tools to get there, neither are present. There are no DNA-changing components in the vaccine at all.
The ribosome in the cell is the place where the mRNA’s instructions are translated to produce the viral protein. This viral protein is usually part of the virus but harmless as a part. Yet, it does trigger an immune response from the body.
These immune responses to the presence of this viral protein can be taxing for the body, typically manifested with signs such as fever, fatigue, aches, and muscle soreness. It doesn’t mean the person is sick, it’s simply a temporary response showing that the vaccine works! (It is training your body to look out for the likes of this virus!)
The body now is producing antibodies that fight the viral protein and stick around to protect you for the long term.
Because this protein is found in most of the COVID variants, the body should recognize them in case of an infection.
Every mRNA vaccine would have the same list of framework ingredients, using it for a new virus is as simple as changing a Lego piece. Imagine a robust vaccine that can treat any infectious disease by swapping out a single component.
The pipeline would go like this: identify the viral protein, encode it to mRNA, put it in the existing vaccine platform. This makes possible to deliver vaccine in weeks, instead of years. This is truly a flexible new tool in the never-ending fight against new diseases.