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This article was made possible with support from ModernaTx
Messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) is a code-carrying molecule that instructs your body to make proteins. Some proteins can treat or protect against a disease.
For over a decade, Moderna has been investigating the potential of its mRNA platform to address unmet needs in multiple therapeutic areas. This pioneering work has earned Moderna the reputation of being at the forefront of mRNA science.
Building on this experience and expertise – and recent, real-world success of its COVID-19 vaccine rollout – Moderna is rapidly developing a new class of vaccines and medicines against current and emerging diseases. “Our mRNA platform has the potential to transform multiple facets of medicine going forward,” says Dr. Shehzad Iqbal, Country Director, Moderna Canada.
In addition to fighting COVID-19 and its emerging variants, Moderna is researching new mRNA vaccines against other diseases like cytomegalovirus (CMV), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and the flu. “mRNA has the potential to prevent diseases in a completely different way, and offer potential new ways of treating them,” says Iqbal.
Rapid vaccine development possible thanks to simplified process
Our cells use mRNA to make proteins every minute of the day for every single function our bodies perform. “There are millions of these different kinds of proteins and mRNA is the code for building these proteins,” explains Dr. Noah Ivers, Clinical Scientist, Women’s College Hospital, University of Toronto.
mRNA-based vaccines use an approach that allow cells at the injection site to produce a small snippet or part of the virus protein that’s being targeted. In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, that virus protein is called the spike protein. “Our immune system sees this protein, recognizes it as foreign, and fights it,” says Dr. Ivers. “Along the way, it builds memory to protect us from getting the actual virus should we encounter it in the future,” he says.
Unlike many traditional vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine does not contain a live virus. “This means we’re never infecting people with COVID-19, or any other disease,” says Dr. Ivers. On top of that, all the mRNA administered in the vaccine leaves the body soon after vaccination. “It’s there just long enough to tell the cell to make that spike protein and then it disintegrates,” he says.
Like all viral vaccines or antibody therapies, mRNA is a biological product. “From a manufacturing perspective, biological products are generally very complicated things to make because many of them use cells or bacteria that have to be grown in massive cultures or in large incubators and then go through a series of purification steps,” says Iqbal. mRNA-based vaccines, in contrast, simplify the process considerably by putting the manufacturing inside your body. “All we’ve done here is crack the code, so we don’t have to take all of the components of the virus to do it, just the particular message of interest,” he says.
The power of mRNA in vaccines is flexibility, adaptability, and speed – something that was put to the test at the onset of the pandemic and is what allowed Moderna to develop and manufacture vaccines at a speed and scale not common in the biotech or pharmaceutical industry. Additionally, Moderna’s early and forward-thinking investments in manufacturing processes and digital capabilities have prepared the company to scale global production of its COVID-19 vaccine up to one billion doses in 20211.
So far, over 138 million doses2 of COVID-19 vaccine Moderna have been administered in the US and over 6.7 million in Canada3.
To those with safety concerns, Dr. Ivers reiterates that mRNA-based vaccines contain no live viruses and cannot infect a person with COVID-19 – nor can they alter one’s DNA. “While our bodies use DNA to make mRNA, there is no way to reverse this process. Once the message is delivered, the mRNA is cleared the same way your body clears all the other RNA in your body,” he says.
If still unsure, Dr. Ivers recommends consulting your healthcare provider. “Nobody has ever been through a pandemic before, so speaking to someone who knows your history or your child’s health history is the best way to arrive at an informed decision.”
To explore how mRNA science is being used in vaccines, visit Moderna Canada.
Dr. Ivers has not received any funding from Moderna Canada for his participation in this article.
Health Canada has authorized the sale of this COVID-19 vaccine under an Interim Order.
COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna is a vaccine used to prevent the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It can be given to individuals aged 18 years and older. As with any vaccine, COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna may not fully protect all those who receive it. Even after you have had both doses of the vaccine, continue to follow the recommendations of local public health officials to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Individuals may not be optimally protected until after receiving the second dose of the vaccine. The most common or very common side effects of COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna are pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle ache and stiffness, chills, fever, swelling or redness at the injection site, nausea and/or vomiting and enlarged lymph nodes. Allergic reactions may also occur. Vaccination may not be suitable for everyone, so ask your healthcare professional if COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna is right for you. Full product information can be found on https://www.modernacovid19global.com/ca/. To report an adverse event, please call 1-866-MODERNA (1-866-663-3762).