Scientists use groundbreaking technology in vaccine development

Posted at 2:55 PM, Dec 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-18 22:58:14-05

NORFOLK, Va. - Scientists are relying on groundbreaking technology in the first two vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna.

The vaccines use messenger RNA to prevent the COVID-19 virus from attaching to cells and causing infection. RNA carries coding in cells, so essentially people are injected with a set of instructions to create proteins in order to block COVID-19 from attaching to someone, causing them to be sick.

"The mRNA vaccine is a brand-new approach to vaccination and is way more effective than the traditional ways of making vaccines," said Dr. Bill Petri, an infectious diseases professor at the University of Virginia.

So far, the vaccines have proven to be around 95% effective. "It's the best possible solution to the terrible crisis we're in," said Dr. Petri.

This is the first time mRNA vaccines have been used. Because of their unique approach, they are developed a lot quicker than other vaccines.

Traditional vaccines inject a weakened form of a virus into a person, allowing them to build up immunity without getting sick. Those vaccines take time to produce because scientists have to grow the viruses, among other things.

While there's been some skepticism about whether the vaccines are safe, scientists stress that they are and they say no, they don't change your DNA. "Where time has been saved is not with safety," said Dr. Petri.

Related: Virginia expected to receive fewer COVID-19 vaccine doses than planned, VDH says

Still, there are questions about the vaccines, including how long they'll offer immunity. "What we don't know is how long protection from the virus is going to last. Is it a lifetime, or is it something that needs to be boosted? That's something only time will tell," said Dr. Petri.

Time will tell how the pandemic eventually ends, but scientists say we're off to a good start.

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