How COVID-19 MRNA vaccines work

Coronavirus Updates

(CLEVELAND CLINIC) — The first COVID-19 vaccine has been granted Emergency Use Authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, and a second is being evaluated.

Both are MRNA vaccines – a new type of vaccine technology.

“These MRNA vaccines are highly effective,” said Thad Stappenbeck, MD, PhD, Chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Inflammation & Immunity. “They’ve been developed over many years and the technology has been honed so that the cargo that is the part of the virus that stimulates the immune system is very effectively delivered to the key cells in the immune system.”

Dr. Stappenbeck said MRNA is a tiny piece of genetic material inside the COVID-19 virus.

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When COVID-19 MRNA is used in a vaccine, it’s engineered and encoded to activate the body’s immune system to fight coronavirus.

While this is the first time MRNA has been used in human vaccines, Dr. Stappenbeck said the method has been extensively studied for 30 years.

So, when COVID-19 hit, the technology was perfectly poised and a vaccine could be developed quickly.

He adds that the coronavirus MRNA inside the vaccine has been carefully engineered not to infect anyone, or interact with someone’s own genetic material.

“The main takeaway is that it’s a safe and effective vaccine,” Dr. Stappenbeck said. “What’s very exciting is that the same approach has been used by two different companies. And essentially they have the same results. They had really no major safety concerns in either of the major trials that have been done with these vaccines.”

Per federal advisors, COVID-19 vaccines will first be administered to healthcare workers, and residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

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