Why the COVID-19 vaccine is so different from every other vaccine

Vaccines have been used for decades but the COVID-19 vaccines are utilizing technology that never been used before. 

As we're all catching up to the latest information from the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmaceutical companies moved quickly to create a vaccine using MRNA technology.

Last week, Pfizer's COVID-19 was granted emergency use authorization by the FDA and Moderna's is expected to be approved this week. Both are MRNA vaccines and, according to Dr. Thaddeus Stappenbeck at the Cleveland Clinic, it's been years of development to get to this point.

"These MRNA vaccines are highly effective. 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," he said.

Dr. Stapenbeck studies the immune system and says MRNA is a tiny piece of genetic material inside the COVID-19 virus. 

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

The race for a COVID-19 vaccine was fast but scientists were ready due to 30 years of development with a new and exciting technology called MRNA.

While this is the first time MRNA has been used in human vaccines, Dr. Stappenbeck says the method has been studied for three decades. When the virus hit, the technology was perfectly poised and a vaccine could be developed quickly.

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

"The main take-away is that it’s a safe and effective vaccine. 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," he said.

Both the Pfizer vaccine and Moderna vaccine will be administered to healthcare workers, residents, and staff at long-term facilities.