How was the coronavirus vaccine developed so fast? The answer is that science and technology have changed mightily since 1953 when Dr. Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine.
The first to change is the technology. There is far and away more computer power in a talking birthday card than the most advanced computers of the early 1950’s. Jonas Salk, then a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine, with a team of researchers at his disposal, would have had the state-of-the-art epidemiological laboratory in his seven-year search for the polio vaccine. In the accompanying photo of Salk in his laboratory, you can see his technology and compare it to the image of only one of the thousands of research labs around the world of 2020.
This is the technology used by science to create a new way of making vaccines that now are seen and understood at the molecular level. It is in laboratories like this one where the new vaccines are made as the Centers for Disease Control explains below:
New Approach to Vaccines (From the CDC)
Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines are a new type of vaccine to protect against infectious diseases. To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. Not mRNA vaccines. Instead, they teach our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.
A Closer Look at How COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines Work
COVID-19 mRNA vaccines give instructions for our cells to make a harmless piece of what is called the “spike protein.” The spike protein is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19.
COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are given in the upper arm muscle. Once the instructions (mRNA) are inside the immune cells, the cells use them to make the protein piece. After the protein piece is made, the cell breaks down the instructions and gets rid of them.
Next, the cell displays the protein piece on its surface. Our immune systems recognize that the protein doesn’t belong there and begin building an immune response and making antibodies, like what happens in natural infection against COVID-19.
At the end of the process, our bodies have learned how to protect against future infection. The benefit of mRNA vaccines, like all vaccines, is those vaccinated gain this protection without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19.
Even with all of this information, an attitude of watchful waiting is still understandable. My guess is after the first ten million are safely vaccinated, the numbers of those holding back will decrease as they roll up their sleeves.