mRNA vaccines — Messenger RNA vaccines — are produced based on a new technology . In this article, we will try to explain the ‘new’ technology.
Vaccines trigger a immune system, as you would already know. This is normally done by introducing either a weakened germ or an inactivated one into our body. The mRNA vaccine differ here.
mRNA vaccines teach our body to make a piece of a protein to trigger an immune response in our body. The immune response produces antibodies thus protecting us from an infection due to the real virus entering our body.
So how does a mRNA work?
Vaccines built on mRNA technology gives instructions for our cells to produce a piece of protein that causes no harm. This is referred to as Spike Protein.
Once the mRNA vaccine is injected into the body, the cells in the body use the vaccine to make the protein piece. The cell then interprets the instructions and gets rid of the protein piece. After the instructions are passed on, the cell shows up the protein piece on its surface. Our immune system recognises that the protein is not part of the body and hence starts to build an immune response. This is done by making antibodies, very much like how it would happen when on gets affected by the virus naturally. Once the antibodies are produced, we know that that the body now has the ability to protect against infections in the future.
mRNA viruses can not infect a person since the technology does not use live virus. If you are concerned if they will affect the DNA of the person getting the shots, then the answer is that the vaccine does not affect the DNA in any ways. This is so because the mRNA does not enter the cell’s nucleus and also because the cell pushes the mRNA out soon after the instructions are interpreted.
Work on developing a vaccine based on the mRNA technology has been on the works for a long time. Since these can be produced with readily available materials and easily scalable, a standard process can be followed making vaccine production faster than earlier technologies. This vaccine has been researched before for flu virus, Zika virus, rabies, etc. For COVID-19, the scientists used the technology mastered over the decades to build the unique spike protein into an mRNA vaccine.
Going forward, a single vaccine (developed using mRNA technology) would provide protection across multiple types of infections. This way the number of shots needed for protection against various viruses and its variants would be reduced, considerably.