HudsonAlpha scientist explains coronavirus vaccine's genetic composition

The vaccines being made are unlike vaccines used to prevent other viruses.

Posted: Dec 15, 2020 7:48 PM

WAAY 31 learned more about the coronavirus vaccine's genetic composition and how it's made different than those in the past.

Neil Lamb, a faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, is helping educate people about the virus, vaccine and breaking down the science behind them.

He said mRNA is vaccine technology that's never been used before, but scientists have studied it for about 10 years. In the last year or two, the technology to make lots of mRNA, he explained, have become more affordable and accessible.

"It's a temporary piece of instruction. It's copied from DNA. It's kind of short term. It hangs around for a little while and disappears. It's broken down, so the concept behind an mRNA vaccine is inject the cell with a little bit of message, a mRNA recipe, for how to make a piece of the spike protein and so the cell's machinery reads this mRNA message, makes the spike protein, put that on the outside of the muscle cells and that unusual protein activates the immune system to build up an immune response to that spike protein, so you're priming your immune system to recognize the spike protein and respond, so that if later on, after you've been vaccinated, if you've been infected, the spike protein that sits on the outside of the virus said, 'oh, I've seen that protein. Here's what I need to do to respond to it,'" he said.

Lamb also said it's important for everyone to know this vaccine does not alter your DNA. He said it's completely separate from your DNA.

He says just like any vaccination, there can be some side effects. Some common possible side effects on the arm where you get the shot could include pain and swelling. You might also experience fever, chills and headaches.

"That generally lasts 12-24 hours. It's unpleasant, it's uncomfortable, it feels like you might get a cold, like you're coming down with something, but that tells you that your immune system is actually doing its job. Generally, by the next day, people feel much better," he said.

Lamb explained a more serious side effect that's being investigated is Bell's Palsy, which would cause facial paralysis on typically one side of your face. The FDA recommends watching for it after receiving the vaccine, but said there are four reported cases of Bell's Palsy among Moderna's 30,000 trial recipients.

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