Many people are hesitant to take covid-19 vaccines because they were developed in less than a year and most vaccines take at least five years to be brought safely to market. However, researchers and medical professionals have gone on record stating that the science and techniques used to develop covid vaccines had actually been researched for decades before the pandemic hit.
Covid vaccines were developed using mRNA technology — messenger ribonucleic acid — which carries the genetic makeup of any living organism.
“There are different types of RNA,” according to Dr. Mariel D. Hepburn, who specializes in Family Medicine at the Southwell Medical Clinic in Tifton, Georgia. “RNA is a linear molecule made up of smaller molecules called ribnucleotide bases. They are placed in a specific order leading to genes and the genetic makeup of an organism.”
Dr. Katalin Kariko saw promise in using mRNAs to treat diseases and has been studying them in the U.S. since 1985, according to an article published in May by University of Alabama Immunology Professor Dr. Moon Nahm. Kariko also previously studied mRNAs in her native Hungary before emigrating to America.
In 1998, Kariko partnered with University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Drew Weissman, who wanted to develop a vaccine for HIV using mRNA. Eventually, after many years of trial and error, the duo started having breakthroughs in their research.
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An article published in Aug. 2021 by Nebraska Medicine states that scientists have been studying different forms of coronaviruses for at least 50 years, including SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).
Through this research, scientists learned that vaccines could target spike proteins – which give viruses the ability to enter one’s cells – and stop the viruses from binding. They used this knowledge to develop and test a variety of vaccines targeting spike proteins in animals, but limited funding stopped them from proceeding with human trials, vaccine scientist Dr. Peter Hotez told USA Today.
“We manufactured a really great SARS 1 vaccine in the lab. We actually had a manufacturer at Walter Reed, but then we couldn’t raise the money to do all the clinical testing,” said Hotez, who is also dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.
Since covid-19 is a form of a coronavirus, scientists already had research that gave them a goal to work towards, Nahm wrote. He and other medical professionals have tried to debunk the notion that the foundational research necessary to make covid-19 vaccines was hastily thrown together.
The reasons covid vaccines were created so quickly include years of mRNA and coronavirus research, an unprecedented government response and massive funding, Nahm said.
“America’s ability to rapidly produce covid-19 vaccines did not result from luck or a short-term effort,” Nahm wrote. “The mRNA vaccines we have today were birthed from decades of investment and determination.”
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