Breakthrough science behind COVID vaccine not a ‘surprise’ for Vanderbilt researcher


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Even though mRNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine created to protect against infectious diseases like COVID, those involved in the science say the development did not come as a surprise.

It’s not new science for those, like Robert Carnahan, who is familiar with mRNA’s history. “For 20 years, people have been looking at this. And definitely in the last 10 years, it has been actively working on as a platform for delivering proteins, or vaccine, into the human body.”

As Assistant Director of Vanderbilt’s Vaccine Center, Carnahan says researchers spend their life’s work hoping to discover the key that unlocks the answers to something scientific.

“We try to design our work to where we’re making an impact. It may not, in our lifetimes, reach a point where it has an impact that we can see it translate into human health.”

However, in the case of mRNA researchers, it did. And it has in the past too, but not to the scale of COVID.

“It’s not the first time it’s been put into humans. It’s not the first time it’s been looked at,” he says.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cancer research has used mRNA to trigger the immune system to target specific cancer cells.

“What people get hung up on is there’s no approved mRNA vaccine prior to this, and that is true.”

Carnahan explains says that’s largely due to timing and circumstance.

“Approving vaccines generally takes a very long time, and why is that? It’s not for the reason that some suspect,” he continues, “It’s that running the clinical trial and getting sufficient number of volunteers that are in an ‘at risk’ population where you can start to see a difference between vaccinated and vaccinated is typically difficult.”

For better or worse, that was not the case during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had lots and lot of people who were exposed to the virus. We had lots and lots of people who were willing to volunteer. So, you could get to the kind of numbers that are required to prove something is effective or not,” says Carnahan.

For those who say the vaccine is not working because vaccinated people can still get infected with COVID, he says, “Not true. The main primary focus of the vaccine all along was to prevent that thing that was more troublesome which is hospitalization and death.”

The CDC has announced people who got the Pfizer or Moderna COVID vaccines should get a booster eight months after their second dose.

Those who got Johnson and Johnson don’t need a booster shot at the present time, because more data and research needs to be done, according to health officials. However, officials suggested Johnson & Johnson recipients will need a booster shot in the future as well.

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