Throughout the ordeal of living through a pandemic, we’ve placed our hope in the development of several vaccines at breakneck speed. Most people, however, have no idea how these vaccines actually work. In this portion of our latest blog series, we take a closer look so you can feel confident when it’s your turn to get the protection you need.
Why the First COVID Vaccines Are Different
COVID vaccines don’t look quite like the inoculations you’ve received in the past. Typically, viruses are inactivated or attenuated so that they’re less infectious. With several of the vaccines intended to fight COVID, however, small pieces of genetic material can be called on to kickstart the immune system.
Vaccines that rely on messenger RNA (mRNA) direct cells to make a portion of what is known as the coronavirus spike protein. Sometimes referred to as a form of genetic software, the mRNA is protected by a coating of soft fatty lipids. The spike protein was chosen for this important task because it’s not believed to mutate extensively.
AstraZeneca’s approach involves a vector vaccine, which carries the spike protein with help from the common cold virus. While this approach tends to be slower, it’s also more cost-effective.
What About Traditional Vaccines?
In addition to the revolutionary vaccines cited above, a few tried-and-tested methods will produce additional options. For example, the protein subunit vaccine from Novavax covers virus-like particles with spike protein pieces that have been genetically engineered. This tactic is already used for the HPV and hepatitis B vaccines. In China, the CoronaVac relies on a trusted technique involving inactivated viruses. The sheer variety of vaccines speaks to the ingenuity of today’s scientific community.