Vaccine 101: What’s an mRNA vaccine?

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both classified as “Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines,” but what does that mean? While this might be a new term for many, researchers have been studying and working with mRNA vaccine technology for decades. The process for making these vaccines can be standardized and produced at scale, making development faster than for a vaccine using live virus.

While mRNA vaccines seem to cause more short-term side effects than other vaccines, these effects don’t appear to be long-lasting. Unlike other vaccines, which will place a weakened germ inside our bodies to fight off infectious disease, mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response in our bodies. The COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer do not use the live vaccine that causes COVID-19. Just like every other vaccine available in the United States though, the mRNA vaccines have been rigorously tested for safety and effectiveness by the FDA. The clinical trials included large numbers of people from Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino and other communities of color that are systemically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To learn more about the mRNA vaccines, visit the CDC’s Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines webpage or watch the video below.

This article first appeared in the Jan. 29, 2021 issue of Oregon Coronavirus Update.