What is RNA?
Fully means RNA: Ribonucleic Acid, aka ribonucleic acid. We have this molecule in our cells, in various forms. Easy said: when our cells make proteins (for new cells, for example), RNA plays the role of the messenger boy between DNA (the hereditary material) and protein production.
What does RNA have to do with the coronavirus?
The coronavirus is an RNA virus. A virus is actually a very simple creature. It consists only of hereditary material (RNA of DNA) with a protein jacket around it. A virus cannot have offspring itself. In order to propagate, the virus takes advantage of a "host". We are the host for this new corona virus.
The virus enters our cells. There it takes over the management of our protein factory. Our cells start to make viral RNA and viral proteins. In short: our cells turn into a virus-producing machine. Until our immune cells become aware of this and clean up the infected cell. They then remember the virus' protein coat. In the event of a new burglary, they quickly recognize the crook by his "jacket" and grab him before you get sick.. You then have a defense against corona.
How does an RNA vaccine work?
When the RNA vaccine is injected, the RNA enters our cells. That's where it will turn into our protein factory. The vaccine ensures that we make the proteins from the virus spines, just as would happen with a true corona infection. Then the immune system comes into action against those spine proteins. The immune cells and antibodies remember the spine proteins and ensure that you are better protected against the virus from now on. The virus is quickly recognized by its jacket and removed, just like if you had the virus yourself. The RNA in the vaccine is a bit different from the RNA in our body and in the coronavirus. It is also packaged in fat globules, so that it is not immediately broken down.
How Effective Is an RNA Vaccine?
We know it in the studies more than 90 percent protects against corona. But those are relatively young and healthy test subjects. How it really works, we don't know yet, the effectiveness may then be lower. We don't know yet how long the protection will last. Research into this is ongoing.
Research on RNA vaccines has long been underway, so the model was already there. But there is still little experience with it. Few people have had an RNA vaccine, before this corona crisis broke out.
Is the RNA vaccine dangerous?
It is, of course, a new type of vaccine that has not yet been widely given to humans. That remains exciting. The studies on these vaccines have been reassuring so far: the side effects are not too bad. Read more about the side effects here.
Which corona vaccines are RNA vaccines?
Three of the vaccines that the Dutch government has ordered for us are RNA vaccines. These are the vaccines from Pfizer / BioNTech, Modern and Curevac. The EMA will decide one of these days on the approval of the Pfizer / BioNtech vaccine. This vaccine is already being administered in Great Britain. The other two vaccines are not that far yet.
Are there any alternatives?
And, they are coming too. The other three vaccines that the government has ordered are from a different mechanism, they are not RNA vaccines. Those are the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine, Janssen/Johnson &Johnson en Sanofi/GSK. Read more about how these vaccines work here. These vaccines have not yet been approved, but the studies are already at a very advanced stage.
Sources: NRC, Volkskrant, Kennislink