Now, we have a thing called a messenger RNA vaccine (mRNA). RNA is, effectively, a single strand of DNA – the double helix that sits within our cells and makes up our genetic code. Many viruses are made up of a single strand of RNA, surrounded by a protein sphere.
They enter the cell, take over the replication systems, make thousands of copies of themselves, then exit the cell. Sometimes killing the cell as they do so, sometimes exiting more gently. Covid19 (Sars-Cov2) is an RNA virus.
Knowing this, rather than attempting to create a weakened virus, which can take years, or break the virus into bits, the vaccine researchers decided to use Sars-Cov2’s RNA against itself. To do this, they isolated the section of RNA which codes for the ‘spike’ protein – which is the thing the virus uses as a ‘key’ to enter cells.
They then worked out how to insert this small section of RNA, messenger RNA, into the cell, where it takes over a part of the protein replication mechanisms that sit inside all cells. They turn the mechanism into a 3D printer, churning out copies of the spike protein.
These spike proteins then leave the cell – somehow or other, this bit is unclear. The immune system comes across them, recognises them as ‘alien’ and attacks. In doing so, antibodies are created, and the immune memory system kicks into action. If, later on, a Sars-Cov2 virus gets into the body, the immune system fires up and attacks the remembered spike protein. Hopefully killing the entire virus.
This is all, certainly very clever stuff. What, as they say, could possibly go wrong?
The first thing to say is that, with something this new, we don’t really know. It could be that it is absolutely 100 percent safe. We are told that none of the mRNA can get into the nucleus of the cell, where it could become incorporated into the DNA. I hope so. Could it trigger an immune cascade? I hope not.
I know that the researchers will be looking very, very, closely at the novel safety issues that could emerge. If they are not, they damned well should be. However, the timelines here are very short. It normally takes many years to create safe and effective vaccines. Here is it happening in, effectively, weeks.
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