Coronavirus: What is an RNA vaccine and how does it work?

12 November 2020, 14:02

The coronavirus vaccination could be one of the first RNA immunisations
The coronavirus vaccination could be one of the first RNA immunisations. Picture: PA

The Covid-19 vaccine remains a huge talking point following the Pfizer and BioNtech breakthrough - so what does RNA mean and how does the vaccine work?

The coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech is a major breakthrough for the worldwide pandemic this week leaving the public with many questions, including, how does an RNA vaccine work?

A new type of vaccine, the Covid immunisation - which has so far shown minimal side effects - is said to use a tiny part of the virus’ genetic code.

Who would get the Covid-19 vaccination first?

Taking a closer look into how it works, here are some of the most frequently asked questions around RNA including what it means, what is an RNA vaccine and of course, how an RNA vaccine works:

RNA vaccinations take a tiny part of the virus' genetic code
RNA vaccinations take a tiny part of the virus' genetic code. Picture: PA

What does RNA mean?

RNA is an abbreviation for ribonucleic acid and is present in all living cells. The definition, as stated by the Oxford dictionary, is that RNA acts as a messenger carrying instructions from DNA.

What is an RNA vaccine?

This will be the first RNA vaccine that could be approved for use in humans.

The RNA vaccine has had plenty of research before for other illnesses and diseases but nothing so far has proven this successful.

It is said to use small fragments from the genetic code of Covid-19 which would start making the virus inside a human body. This would allow the immune system to recognise the virus as foreign and can therefore attack it with antibodies.

The coronavirus vaccination if approved, could be distributed as early as December 2020
The coronavirus vaccination if approved, could be distributed as early as December 2020. Picture: PA

How does an RNA vaccine work?

In terms of the coronavirus vaccine, the patient would be injected with an initial does, helping the immune system learn to produce antibodies to fight Covid-19

A second dose will be given 21 days after the first.

After the vaccination, if the person comes in contact with the virus, antibodies and T-cells are then quickly triggered in order to fight it off.

At the moment it is unclear whether this would be a one-off injection or an annual one needed like the flu.