With Two COVID-19 Vaccines on Way, “We Are in New Territory”

A week after Pfizer caused excitement by announcing that its coronavirus vaccine has been more than 90 percent effective in early trials, Moderna came out with its own announcement that its version of a coronavirus vaccine had reached more than 94 percent effectiveness.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called Moderna’s early results “stunningly impressive,” and the stock market rallied as investors took it as a sign that there may soon be powerful new public health tools to control the sprawling pandemic.

Like the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine is also developed using mRNA, which stands for messenger RNA. This single strand of genetic information is “read” by biological machinery inside cells, acting like an instruction manual that directs the cell to build proteins of certain specifications. The coronavirus, once it has infected a cell, uses mRNA to trick the cell into manufacturing more copies of the virus. But Pfizer and Moderna are using mRNA to tell the cell how to build proteins that resemble the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 infections, similar enough to impart immunity on a vaccinated person but not cause an infection.

With two vaccines now racing toward US Food and Drug Administration approval, The Brink reached out to Ron Corley, director of BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL), and Florian Douam, NEIDL virologist and vaccine expert, to get their takes on how the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines could change the course of the pandemic.

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