A New Era of Vaccines Appears on the Horizon

As biotech reporter Emily Mullin reports for Future Human, the Covid-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, which are using new genetic technology for the first time, could mark a change in how vaccines are developed during infectious disease outbreaks going forward. Mullin writes:

The traditional method for making and mass-producing vaccines is complicated, expensive, and extremely time-consuming. It involves first growing a virus or other pathogen in animal cells or chicken eggs, which can take months. Then, the pathogen is extracted and killed or weakened so as to not cause infection (some newer vaccines use just a small piece of the pathogen). Then, the vaccine has to be purified and must undergo extensive safety testing.

Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines rely on a different approach. Instead of using the whole pathogen or part of it to spur an immune response, they use a small sequence of genetic code, known as messenger RNA (mRNA). The genetic material delivers a set of instructions that tells the body to temporarily make a protein that resembles one on SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. The body then recognizes the protein as foreign and ramps up an immune response, generating protective antibodies. A handful of other companies, like Inovio Pharmaceuticals and Novavax, are using DNA instead of mRNA in their vaccines, but they work on the same principle.

Read her full story below.

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Alexandra Sifferlin

Alexandra Sifferlin

6.7K Followers

Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that