There’s a lot of gossips right now around the world regarding the record speed vaccines for covid-19. Some of the vaccines are already starting distribution in parts of the world but given that these are mRNA vaccines a relatively new technology that has not been widely used before we want to explain how they work and what happens to your body from the moment that needle touches your skin.

Like the vaccines we used to see these vaccines will be injected into the upper muscle of your arm, but unlike typical vaccines which introduced in active or weakened forms of a virus these vaccines injects genetic material called messenger RNA.

So what exactly does this mRNA do?

In a regular cell of your body you have DNA inside of the nucleus and this DNA stores all the information and instructions important to the functioning of your cells, your body and ultimately makes you, You. Inside your cell is machinery that reads through your DNA and transcribes it into mRNA which then leaves the nucleus and goes into your cytoplasm and it’s here that the ribosome in your cells read the mRNA and depending on the specific code build a series of amino acids which fold in on themselves to make proteins, which keep you alive and functioning. This process is known as translation. For more exciting stuff please subscribe to our Facebook Page.

In fact, it’s this process that viruses take advantage of in the first place, they insert their own genetic information into you, and then your cell machinery wittingly starts taking that information and building proteins to help create more viruses

So back to the needle, the mRNA that is being injected into you from the vaccine also carries genetic instructions but in this case, it’s only coding for one small part of the virus instead of the whole thing. You have probably seen SARS CoV2 represented like this with the spikes on it.


Spike proteins

This spike protein which on its own is harmless that the vaccine’s mRNA codes for. The mRNA makes its way into the cytoplasm of your cells where the ribosomes read the information and start to create the spike proteins. Once the protein is made, it goes to the cell membrane, and then your cell breaks down and destroys the injected mRNA instructions.

So what good does having a tiny fragment of viral spike in your body do?

Well, it gives your body and more importantly, your immune system a preview of what the virus looks like without causing disease. Suddenly your antibodies will notice it and go well this doesn’t belong here which triggers an immune response to recognize and prepare your body for the real thing without ever having come in contact with the actual virus itself. Your immune system essentially gets a head start by creating powerful antibodies that can neutralize and kill the real virus and this antibody memory is stored in your B-cells so that if you are ever in fact in the future with the SARS CoV2 virus your body now has the upper hand this is known as an adaptive immune response your body has already seen the spike proteins before and therefore it already knows what to do. Essentially these mRNA vaccines allow your body to protect itself from a future infection without ever having to risk the consequences of getting the disease Covid-19. For more exciting stuff please subscribe to our Facebook Page.

So why have an mRNA vaccines been used before?

Well, they are relatively new researchers who have actually been experimenting with them for decades, but in the past, they’ve been very unstable. Enzymes in your body would break down the mRNA quickly so they needed to be packaged well. The ones being released now have the mRNA encased in lipid nanoparticles which essentially protect the mRNA from being degraded. Since there are more unstable than other types of vaccines, they have to be kept cold.

For example, the Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at minus 70°C and at normal refrigerated temperatures can only last five days.

What makes these vaccines so appealing is that unlike other vaccines, they can be made in a lab with readily available materials and actually made much quicker than other types of vaccines. Instead of fully developing non-infectious viruses and then injecting them, these mRNA vaccines can sort of pass many hurdles by using your own body in an ingenious way. It’s also far more cost-effective to create mRNA molecules rather than the proteins themselves and also a lot more scalable which is helpful when we are in a global pandemic waiting for a vaccine. For more exciting stuff please subscribe to our Facebook Page.

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