Photo courtesy of Congressman Billy Long

Billy Long: mRNA: The Vaccine Breakthrough

by U.S. Representative Billy Long

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts warned that we could be years away from an effective vaccine. Despite this warning President Trump confidently stated that a vaccine would be created before the end of 2020. Some of these same experts warned that this wasn’t possible, and the President was mocked for making a promise he surely would not be able to keep. Thanks to Operation Warp Speed and the brilliant minds of the private sector, this promise was kept, and an effective vaccine was created in record time. The technology used in these vaccines, mRNA, is a breakthrough in the medical field and could be used for years to come to treat a wide array of other common and uncommon debilitating diseases.

Messenger Ribonucleic Acid, or mRNA, is the molecule used in COVID-19 vaccines that allows our bodies to trigger an immune response to COVID-19. Traditional vaccines, for example the annual flu vaccine, use a weakened flu germ to trigger an immune response in the body. mRNA vaccines use mRNA to relay instructions to our body to create a protein that triggers an immune response. The benefit of mRNA vaccines over traditional vaccines is that you are not directly injecting a weakened form of the virus into someone. When you get a COVID-19 vaccine, you are never exposed to the virus but will gain an immunity to it. And importantly, mRNA does not interact with our DNA. DNA is stored in our cell nucleus, and mRNA never enters the nucleus. Once the instructions are delivered, the cell breaks down the mRNA and gets rid of it.

The use of mRNA is a medical and technological breakthrough. Its success in treating COVID-19 shows that mRNA is an effective way to fight infectious and debilitating diseases. As mentioned above, one of the many benefits of mRNA is that you do not need to use a weakened germ to trigger an immune response in the body. This means that future mRNA vaccines could be used to provide the body immunity to multiple diseases, significantly decreasing the amount of shots an individual would need to protect against common diseases while never exposing the individual to a weakened form of those diseases. The process for creating effective mRNA vaccines can now take just a few months, instead of years, which could help vaccine developers adapt to seasonal flu strains and dramatically increase their effectiveness.

In addition to treating common vaccine-preventable diseases, mRNA could be a medical breakthrough in treating debilitating and life-threatening diseases such as cancer, sickle-cell disease, and even HIV. In the same way that mRNA provides instructions to the body to create an immune response to COVID-19, scientists are working on ways for mRNA to provide instructions to the body to attack specific cancer cells. While treating diseases like cancer through mRNA will be more complex than treating diseases such as COVID-19 or the flu, mRNA could be a template to treat these deadly diseases.

COVID-19 has been a plague on our country and the world. Thanks to scientific breakthroughs such as the use of mRNA and Operation Warp Speed’s ability to get these vaccines through rigorous testing in record time, we have a safe and effective vaccine to treat COVID-19. Right now, the potential of using mRNA to treat common and uncommon diseases is high, and it could reshape the face of treatment and disease eradication for decades to come. They say ‘follow the science’ and in this case scientific advancements are definitely leading and that is a very good thing. 

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