How do mRNA vaccines work?
Messenger RNA (mRNA) is a single-stranded molecule naturally present in all of our cells. It carries the instructions for making proteins from our genes, located in the cell nucleus, to the cytoplasm, the main body of our cells.
While most vaccines contain an infectious pathogen or a part of it, mRNA vaccines deliver the genetic instructions for our cells to make viral or bacterial proteins themselves. Our immune system responds to these and builds up immunity.
In the case of mRNA vaccines, there is no risk for long term genetic changes.
Cells rely on proteins to carry out the many processes necessary for the body to function. That’s where messenger RNA, or mRNA for short, comes in.
Sections of the DNA code are transcribed into shortened messages that are instructions for making proteins. These messages – the mRNA – are transported out to the main part of the cell. Once the mRNA arrives, the cell can produce particular proteins from these instructions.
The vaccine provides just enough mRNA to make just enough of the spike protein for a person’s immune system to generate antibodies that protect them if they are later exposed to the virus. The mRNA in the vaccine is soon destroyed by the cell – just as any other mRNA would be. The mRNA cannot get into the cell nucleus and it cannot affect a person’s DNA.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are the first mRNA-based therapeutics of any kind to be authorized for use. And because they can be developed and modified so quickly, some version of mRNA vaccines is likely to be the default approach in the future. There is scope for mRNA Tech Used in COVID-19 Vaccines to be Used to Cure HIV, Cancer and more.