ATLANTA — Scientists took a different approach to creating a COVID-19 vaccine, one that may put some minds at ease.
Most vaccines stimulate our body’s immune system by using either a weakened or inactive version of the virus it’s designed to combat. The COVID-19 vaccines don’t do that.
“You’re not introducing a live virus so it can’t cause an actual infection,” said Dr. Ashley Hannings of the University of Georgia’s College of Pharmacy. “It’s safe from that standpoint.”
The COVID-19 vaccine uses a portion of the virus’ genetic code. It sends a messenger into our bodies with specific instructions on how to neutralize a specific part of the virus known as the “spike protein.” That’s what the virus uses to enter the cells in our bodies where it replicates.
“It tells the body, ‘hey, if you see this spike protein, you have to neutralize it with these neutralizing antibodies or you generate memory cells that will go and attack,’” said Dr. Grace Gowda of UGA’s College of Pharmacy.
Producing this type of vaccine doesn’t take as long as creating one that involves a weakened or inactive form of the virus.
“That takes time because you have to grow them and purify them,” said Dr. Gowda. “Once they knew the genetic code they were able to design this vaccine in two days.”
This is the first time a vaccine of its kind is being widely used in the United States.
“This is an area that’s been under study by scientists for a few years,” said Dr. Hannings. “I think we’ll see more development in this area.”
There are still a lot of questions. For example, scientists are eager to know how long our bodies will remain immune to COVID-19 once we’ve received a vaccine.