How the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work

Coronavirus

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) —  Health experts urge Americans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, but you may wonder how these shots work. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use mRNA to fight the coronavirus.
mRNA stands for ‘messenger ribonucleic acid’ … a part of a cell that carries genetic information. The Pfizer and Moderna shots were the first mRNA vaccines ever approved by the FDA. Dr. William Baker, a local physician, says these shots give your body a blueprint of what the coronavirus looks like, so your immune system can fight back.

“They allow a snippet of RNA into our cells,” said Dr. Baker. “The result is, your immune system recognizes that as a foreign intruder.”

These aren’t the same as your traditional flu shots. They don’t use a dead form of the virus … just the piece of it that attaches to human cells.

“It’s like the plan for a house, if we cut around everything and just take the plans for the front door,” said Dr. Baker. “Flu vaccines vary from 30% to 70% effective, whereas mRNA vaccines, as we learned with COVID, are over 90% effective.”

The first mRNA vaccines were FDA-approved last year, but this technology isn’t new. Dr. Baker says scientists started studying this type of vaccine to fight SARS … Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

“That’s when the research began, in 2003, 2004, to develop vaccines that were much more effective and vaccines that could be produced much more quickly,” said Dr. Baker. “So this wasn’t cooked up in a lab overnight. Governments around the world provided enough funds for these companies to ramp up dramatically, quickly, to produce vaccines that could save us from untold numbers of deaths.”

Forbes Magazine reports more than 488 million COVID shots have gone into the arms of Americans so far. But nearly a third of all Americans still remain unvaccinated. Flu season is here as well.

“Vaccines for influenza and COVID are both essential,” said Dr. Baker. “I have recommended that folks get them spaced out by a week or so for one simple, practical reason. It makes sense to wait for a week rather than feel achy or have your arms feel sore.”

Moderna is currently working on the first ever flu shot using mRNA.

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