How mRNA Technology Works

The mRNA technology has been around since the 1990s but it was used for the first time to make COVID-19 vaccines.

Where You’ve Seen mRNA Technology at Work

The vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna use mRNA to fight COVID-19. When these vaccines were rolled out, it was the first time mRNA was used on humans in vaccine technology. While the concept is new to the public, the research has been around since the early 1990s.

The mRNA molecule tells your cells to make pieces of a protein used by certain viruses.

What are mRNA Vaccines?

mRNA is a type of molecule that has the ability to deliver a specific set of instructions to your cells to make pieces of protein used by certain viruses. This could induce an immune response to fight off a viral attack.

Harnessing this technology, scientists had been experimenting with mRNA's potential use against deadly diseases like influenza, Ebola, and SARS.

Traditional vaccines use weakened germs to trigger an immune response versus mRNA vaccines that teach your cells to make a protein that belongs to a specific virus.

mRNA Vaccines vs. Traditional Vaccines

Traditional vaccines use weakened or inactivated germs to trigger an immune response in our body. mRNA vaccines use genetically engineered molecules that teach your cells to make a harmless piece of protein that belongs to a specific virus. This triggers your immune system to make antibodies that are designed to attack and destroy the viral protein.

The mRNA technology uses viral protein because it plays an important role in successful infection.

Why Does mRNA Vaccine Use Protein?

This mRNA technology uses viral protein because it plays an important role in a successful infection. The protein enables a virus to enter your body, attach itself to a cell, replicate, and spread. mRNA vaccines teach our cells to build antibodies against the protein particle and prevent infection and keep you from getting seriously ill.

The mRNA vaccine tells cells to make a foreign protein particle, which then alerts the immune system to mount a defense and create antibodies.

How mRNA Vaccines Work

Once mRNA technology instructs your cells to make the foreign protein particle, it shows up on the cell's surface. The presence of the protein alerts your immune system to mount a defense and create antibodies to fight off what it thinks is a possible infection. Your body learns to recognize the viral protein as an enemy. In case of a real viral infection, your immune system is now prepared to destroy it and prevent serious illness.

COVID-19 mRNA vaccines instruct your cells to make "spike proteins."

mRNA Vaccines and COVID-19

COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are given in the upper arm muscle. The mRNA enters your muscle cells and instructs them to make "spike proteins." It's the same type of protein found on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which attaches to cells to cause a COVID-19 infection. After your body builds antibodies against the spike protein, it gives you immunity against the real SARS-CoV-2 virus infection.

Different types of COVID-19 vaccinations are approved for different age ranges.

mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine Guideline

Everyone 5 and older can get an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine is approved for ages 5 and up, but so far the Moderna vaccine is only approved for ages 18 and up. To build a successful immune response against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, you need two doses of the same vaccine given 21 days apart if the Pfizer vaccine is used or 28 days apart if using Moderna.

Booster shot recommendations depend on which mRNA vaccine you received for the first dose.

What About Booster Shots?

Booster shot recommendations depend on which mRNA vaccine you received for your primary series.

  • If you're 12 or older and got the Pfizer vaccine, you're eligible for a booster from any manufacturer 5 months after your last jab. Teens 12-17 years old can only get a Pfizer booster.
  • If you're 18 or older and got the Moderna vaccine, you're eligible for a booster from any manufacturer 5 months after your last jab.
The mRNA vaccines do not contain live viruses and they cannot infect you.

Quick Facts: mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine Technology

  • mRNA vaccines don't contain live viruses and can't infect you.
  • mRNA breaks down right after it delivers instructions to your cells. It never has the chance to enter the cell nucleus, which contains your DNA. The vaccine can't change or influence your DNA.
  • The cells break down mRNA material a few days after the vaccination.
  • The spike protein your cells use to build antibodies may linger in your body for a few weeks.
The mRNA vaccine technology will be used against a variety of diseases.

mRNA Vaccine Technology: What’s Next?

The mRNA vaccine technology and its success against COVID-19 have opened doors to explore its uses against a variety of diseases. This is because the makeup and delivery mechanism now provides scientists a basic template to target any virus. They can simply insert the code for a particular viral protein and stimulate your immune system against it. Given that the technology already exists, the turnaround for vaccines could be faster.

There are mRNA vaccines that are being tested for diseases like HIV, Zika, rabies, and other diseases.

mRNA Technology: Future Applications

Some mRNA vaccines against diseases like HIV, Zika, and rabies are already in the human trial phase.

Other potential vaccine uses include:

  • Malaria
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Hepatitis B
  • Treatment for certain types of cancer
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REFERENCES:

  • Association of American Medical Colleges: "mRNA technology promises to revolutionize future vaccines and treatments for cancer, infectious diseases."
  • CDC: "Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines."
  • Mayo Clinic: "Different types of COVID-19 vaccines: How they work."
  • FDA: "mRNA technology promises to revolutionize future vaccines and treatments for cancer, infectious diseases."
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