COVID-19 Information Center: get the latest on vaccines, testing, screening, visitor policy and post-COVID support >>
We’ve all witnessed the remarkable effectiveness of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines against the coronavirus.
This new type of vaccine doesn’t use a weakened or dead virus to teach our cells how to fight off disease, like many vaccines do.
Instead, it contains a portion of mRNA that sends the body’s cells instructions to make a harmless piece of spike protein (the button on the surface of the coronavirus). The mRNA is quickly destroyed in the cell shortly after translation.
When human immune cells detect the spike protein, they begin mounting a defense, creating antibodies against the spike proteins until all of them have been destroyed.
Our immune system is then equipped to fight off the coronavirus if exposed, without actually having been infected.
The Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna mRNA 1273 are mRNA vaccines.
While this coronavirus mRNA vaccine is new to us, it has been studied by scientists for decades, and was only authorized after meeting rigorous scientific standards for safety. It was able to be manufactured more quickly than previous vaccines due to a worldwide urgency to combat a global pandemic.
The mRNA technology is so promising that researchers are looking at ways to use mRNA vaccines to fight another insidious human enemy: cancer.
Scientists have already used mRNA to teach the immune system to target certain cancer cells.
Cancer immunotherapies aim to help the immune system fight off cancer cells, just like it would attack intruders like viruses.
The immune system has a more difficult time fighting off cancer cells because cancer starts in normal, healthy cells and don’t always appear to be obviously foreign.
Though not as widely used as chemotherapy, radiation or surgery, immunotherapy has been approved to treat many types of cancer. Typically given intravenously (through an IV), orally, as a topical cream or through a catheter, the main types of immunotherapy now being used to treat cancer include:
Scientists continue to study mRNA treatments for several types of cancer.
Since the coronavirus mRNA vaccine was developed so quickly, how long will it take to develop a vaccine for cancer? It could be a while longer, though experts say the widespread success of the coronavirus vaccine will help move research and development forward more quickly.
This blog was reviewed by Alexander Hantel, M.D., a medical oncologist and System Medical Director at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
Learn more about cancer services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
For the latest updates on the COVID-19 vaccine, please check EEHealth.org/coronavirus/vaccine.
Are you wondering whether to get the vaccine? Read our blog to learn more.
The information in this article may change at any time due to the changing landscape of this pandemic. Read the latest on COVID-19.
If you have reached this screen, your current device or browser is unable to access the full Edward-Elmhurst Health Web site.
To see the full site, please upgrade your browser to the most recent version of Safari, Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer. If you cannot upgrade your browser, you can remain on this site.