The Long History of mRNA Vaccine Research

Today’s mRNA vaccines against Covid began with a search for a vaccine against MERS. Many breakthroughs occurred in different areas over six decades as medical science scrounged for financing and encountered many failures. A major discovery was that mRNA, a genetic molecule, is in charge of the human body’s proteins. It is unknown how many different proteins there are in the human body, with estimates between ten thousand and two million. Another major development, which occurred in gene therapy, was the ability to treat disease safely at the genetic level.

The arrival of HIV spurred an effort to find a vaccine using the acquired knowledge. HIV proved intractable, but the additional research increased knowledge of mRNA behavior and gene therapy even further, so much so that with a huge investment by the federal government when Covid struck, it enabled rapid development of Covid vaccines. This time the ideas worked as expected.

The spikes seen in depictions of the Covid virus that can stab their way into our cells are made of a certain protein. Since prior research had determined a means to get mRNA to recognize particular proteins, all that medical scientists needed to do was analyze the molecular structure of the Covid spike’s protein. They must have been amused or shaking their heads at people viewing the development of Covid vaccines as “rapid.”

This extraordinary history is testimony for supporting basic scientific research. If all of that research had not been done, who knows how long it would have taken to develop a vaccine and make it available to the public? In fact, scientists involved in the final stages view it as a long awaited validation of the value of decades of research.

Speaking of the success of scientific research, the scientists who labored over the constrtuction of the James Web telescope are no doubt experiencing much relief along with validation, now that it arrived as its final resting place. Now they anticipate learning more about the strange universe in which we live, and in fact about events in the far distant past.

Postscript: With mRNA vaccines, no dead nor weakened beastlings need to be injected into our bodies as had been the practice for older vaccines. As is true today, many people feared and opposed such vaccines including the one for polio, which originally contained diseased cells from monkeys. I suppose suspicion of new things is a survival trait built into the human psyche. We also sometimes fear what we don’t understand. Hmm, we use cell phones and computers without understanding, but we can see they work. Now, the statistics show that mRNA vaccines work.

This is primarily based on an article: Halting Progress and Happy Accidents: How mRNA vaccines were made. By Gina Kolata and Benjamin Mueller

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