What You Should Know About mRNA and the COVID Vaccine

If you’ve been watching the news, listening to the radio, or even opening Google recently, chances are good that you’ve heard a lot about the COVID vaccine that’s currently in the works. With information flying in from every possible direction, it can be difficult to decipher fact from fiction. And with social media thrown into the mix, there’s yet another source to consider. With all of these things considered, it can feel impossible to piece together all of the information you might want or need.

We put together a comprehensive COVID vaccine breakdown so you can find all of the information you need all in one place. As an essential company that has been at the forefront of the COVID battle from day one, we feel compelled to keep our clients, franchisees, families, and communities informed. But keep in mind that things are changing every day. We did the best we could to piece it all together from what’s available right now, but tomorrow might bring something new. Let’s get started with what you should know about the COVID vaccine:

What is mRNA?

If you don’t remember mRNA from high school biology, don’t worry – most of us are right there with you. The two leading companies in the race to a safe and effective COVID vaccine, Pfizer and Moderna, have tapped into brand new technologies to make this vaccine. The star of the show? Messenger ribonucleic acid, aka mRNA. mRNA is essentially a tiny snippet of genetic code. These bits of genetic code tell cells when to build proteins.

The importance of mRNA in the body

Snippets of genetic code may seem a basic part of human physiology, but they’re involved in a much bigger and more important process: unleashing the immune system. The idea to use mRNA in a vaccine is not a new one. Vaccine researchers, medical professionals, and scientists have investigated this promising piece of human physiology for years. But mRNA has been difficult to bend to their will. That is until we had the advanced technology and the urgency of a global pandemic. If either of these vaccines is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, they’ll make history as the first authorized vaccines that use mRNA.

How mRNA can help in the fight against COVID

In most vaccines today, live bits of the virus are used to trigger the body’s immune system and lead it to produce protective antibodies. The theory behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is that they can use mRNA to do this instead. This would not only be a massive step in getting the COVID outbreak under control, but it may also forever change the way vaccines are created. The combination of advanced technology and mRNA could help create an entirely new line of vaccines against a wide variety of different viruses. In the future, it could help shorten the time it takes to create a vaccine and lead to higher effective rates as technology continues to evolve.

Are the vaccines ready?

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are still in the testing stage. Currently, the trials are producing some extremely promising results. About a week ago, Pfizer’s preliminary findings showed that their vaccine is over 90% effective in preventing symptomatic coronavirus. Even better: Moderna’s trial results showed that their experimental vaccine is 94.5% effective in the same setting. The results of both vaccines are positive but the journey isn’t over just yet. There are several stages involved in vaccine development. And one of these stages, clinical development, involves a three-phase process. During this stage, the phases evolve as follows:

• Phase I: small groups of volunteers receive the trial vaccine

• Phase II: the study expands and the vaccine is given to others who show characteristics similar to those the new vaccine is intended for (age and physical health would likely be two of the characteristics considered)

• Phase III: the vaccine is given to thousands of people and tested for both efficacy and safety

What happens next?

After clinical development, a new vaccine has to pass through three more stages: regulatory review and approval, manufacturing, and quality control. This intensive multi-stage process is the reason why it usually takes so long for a vaccine to be developed. The average time to develop a new vaccine is five years. Some can take up to 10 years or more. The speedy response to the coronavirus epidemic by vaccine researchers and pharmaceutical companies has been described as unprecedented. But the desperate need for a vaccine and the promising advanced technologies that are being used may lead to a COVID vaccine that will be produced and distributed in record time.

How many stages are left?

Moderna’s 94.5% effective rate was established during phase III of their trial. This means that they’ve already gone through two other phases in clinical development, and passed through the exploratory and pre-clinical stages. Pfizer has, as well. As of yesterday, Pfizer and their German partner company BioNtech began preparing to apply for emergency authorization to speed the process up. New data shows that their vaccine has a 95% effective rate. Depending on the length of the review process, strictly limited initial doses could be available before 2020 is over.

These limited doses would likely be given to front-line health care professionals and other essential workers to ensure that they’re staying healthy enough to care for everyone else. Between both Pfizer and Moderna, there could be 40 million doses available by the end of the year, enough to vaccinate about 20 million people. We are currently at an average of one million new infections each week in the U.S.

The bottom line on COVID vaccine development

We’re all eagerly awaiting a vaccine that could move us all back toward normalcy. But it’s likely to take a little bit longer. While the trial results for the two companies in the lead for the vaccine have proven promising, there are a few steps left to go. Vaccine researchers, producers, and distributors want to ensure that the vaccine works for a wide range of people, the effective rate is where it should be, the side effects are minimal, and the distribution process is effective.

Vaccines often need to be shipped and stored in certain ways or under certain temperatures, so that is yet another factor that must be faced. If the remainder of the development process goes well, COVID vaccines may be available in 2020. However, as we mentioned before, there may not be enough for all adults just yet. It may take into the spring or summer of 2021 for all adults to get vaccinated, and longer for young children, as they need to complete more studies. Getting our doctors, nurses, and other essential workers the vaccine first will help ensure that our healthcare system isn’t stretched beyond its capacity before widespread distribution becomes available.

Who will get the vaccine first?

Whether we see a 2020 release or we have to wait until 2021, it seems highly likely that those most exposed and vulnerable to COVID will be prioritized with the first wave of vaccines, with others receiving the vaccine in the next production and distribution waves. Considering the average development period for new vaccines, the potential of 2020 distribution is excellent news and promising for the future of vaccines.

If COVID vaccines make it into the manufacturing and distribution stages in December 2020, it will have taken less than one year for vaccine researchers to get through a process that rarely takes less than five. Health-care workers and other essential workers will receive vaccines first, which makes sense considering their heavy involvement in reigning the virus in. The elderly and others with underlying health conditions would likely receive the vaccine in the same wave or shortly after. Next, teachers and individuals in prisons or homeless shelters, who are at a higher risk of contracting the virus.

The FDA’s emergency authorization process

Pfizer officially requested emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their vaccine on Friday November 20, 2020. But what exactly does this mean? Under certain circumstances, the FDA Commissioner may allow unapproved medical products or unapproved uses of approved medical products in an emergency. These can be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases or conditions when there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives.

COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency on January 31st of this year so we already know that it meets that requirement. We also know that there are currently no adequate, approved, and available alternatives. An advisory committee with be meeting to review the vaccine in early December and if the FDA decides to approve the vaccine then, it’ll likely be released in phases starting with healthcare workers. The review and approval process is expected to take at least a few more weeks.

How will COVID-19 vaccines be distributed?

When the time comes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced plans for the federal government to oversee a centralized system for ordering, distributing, and tracking COVID vaccines. They are working closely with state and local jurisdictions, as well as private partners and federal agencies. Some of these private partners include chains and networks of independent pharmacies. For residents of long-term care settings like nursing homes and assisted living homes, the CDC is working with pharmacies to get them on-side COVID vaccination services. Many of these individuals are older than 65, placing them into the vulnerable category due to weakened immune systems and pre-existing health issues.

But most adults will simply have to visit a pharmacy to get their COVID vaccine when it becomes available. If you are a member of the CVS extra care program, you may have already been alerted to their partnership with the CDC in the distribution of the vaccine. CVS Health was selected as an official COVID-19 Vaccination Program Provider. Through their 10,000 locations, the vaccine will be offered to the public once it is widely available. COVID vaccines are also expected to be distributed by Walgreens, Walmart, and mobile vaccination vehicles.

What can we do while we wait for the vaccine?

The best thing to do while we wait for the vaccine is to continue following the CDC’s COVID guidelines. Practice social distancing, avoid large gatherings, and always wear masks or other approved face coverings when you go out in public. Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, carry hand sanitizer with you when you won’t have access to soap and water, and stay home if you’re feeling sick.

Clean and disinfect your home regularly, especially high touch surfaces and in high traffic areas. If you own or operate an office, medical facility, school, warehouse, factory, or another business in a commercial setting, consider consider scheduling a regular Corvus clean. Our proactive, high-level, and innovative cleaning and disinfecting services are ideal in situations like the one we are facing now. We’ve worked with business owners, medical professionals, and school officials across the country to keep their facilities safe.

Will the flu shot help protect me from COVID?

If you haven’t already gotten one, CVS Pharmacy locations are currently promoting flu shots for anyone who wants them. You can call ahead to schedule or walk in, and these shots come with no out-of-pocket costs for most individuals who have insurance. If you’re not sure if your health insurance plan covers flu shots, they can confirm for you. While a flu shot won’t protect you from contracting COVID, it’s still recommended this year more than it has been in others.

Keeping the flu count low will help keep doctors’ offices, emergency rooms, and walk-ins clear for those who are battling COVID and are in desperate need of these resources. And because both the flu and COVID are respiratory viruses, medical professionals are doing everything they can to minimize the impact of having two respiratory outbreaks simultaneously circling our communities. According to the CDC, the flu vaccine during the 2018-2019 season helped prevent an estimated 4.4 million flu-related illnesses, 2.3 million flu-related medical visits, 58,000 flu-related hospitalizations, and 3,500 flu-related deaths.