The Road to a COVID-19 Vaccine, and the Two Companies That Made It Happen


Sol Y.

As 2021 begins, we’ll be getting the greatest New Years gift imaginable, the COVID19 vaccine, a mRNA vaccine. mRNA is a procedure scientists have been trying to perfect long before COVID began, and mastering it meant developing a COVID vaccine in record time. In 2020, scientists made huge strides in mRNA vaccine technology, and up on top came Moderna and Pfizer, two pharmaceutical companies that could not be more different. And while this pandemic is still far from over, it’s quite impressive how far we’ve come in developing new technology and learning to adapt. This whole year will go down in history, and soon there’ll be chapters in our history books on the pandemic of 2020. 

It all began in December 2019. A new disease had been recognized in Wuhan, China. Not even a month later in January 2020, the first cases in the U.S. were identified. This would be the beginning of a long and treacherous quarantine. 

Thankfully, a COVID vaccine has emerged, and in record time. 

One of the main vaccine contenders is Pfizer, a huge pharmaceutical company that has taken quite the leap in developing the vaccine. Then again, however, so has Moderna, and they’re right on Pfizer’s toes. Pfizer is a huge company, and has been around for over 150 years. They have countless discoveries and breakthroughs under their belts. Among other things, they are responsible for Advil, Xanax, Viagra, and are one of the world’s biggest distributors of penicillin, often referred to as a ‘miracle drug’. 

Meanwhile, there’s Moderna. Moderna has only been around for about ten years, which is a relatively small amount of time compared to Pfizer. This doesn’t preclude them from being one of the top vaccine contenders, however. So then what’s the catch? Why is Moderna, this brand-new company suddenly competing with the likes of Pfizer? This is because Moderna has some of the world’s most renowned scientists, and due to its being new, it gets substantially much more press. This leads to more publicity, more money, and much better technology. Moderna has some of the latest, fastest, smartest technology out there. So, with a more-than-flexible budget and distinguished scientists, Moderna made advancements when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, and very fast. 

Underneath all the complicated layers of  companies and competition, both Pfizer and Moderna are simply on a quest to create a COVID vaccine, and fast. For the vaccine to succeed, it needs Messenger RNA (mRNA). mRNA vaccines are a tool that scientists have tried to decode even before COVID-19 was a threat. Moderna has dedicated a lot of time and resources to developing the mRNA vaccines. To understand the difference between mRNA and a regular vaccine, we have to take a look at how regular run-of-the-mill flu shots are made. 

What flu shots contain, essentially, is parts of the virus itself (minus the harmful parts, which have been removed by scientists). Therefore, when the antibodies in the vaccine find this ‘virus’ in your bloodstream, they immediately begin to attack it, which is standard procedure. The human body learns how to make antibodies for this virus, so if it ever were to get infected, the human body now has a surplus of these antibodies, and can easily defeat the virus in hours. 

Messenger RNA, on the other hand, is a new form of vaccination, and if harnessed, could be infinitely more effective. Rather than sending fake ‘viruses’ into your body, they’re sending in instructions so that your body can generate these fake viruses itself. This may seem alarming at first, but this approach is faster and safer. Here is one way to think about this: there are two pastry chefs. One must make a dozen sloppy cakes, however, they do not have a cookbook. This is like the regular flu shots, because your body must make millions of ‘okay’ antibodies, and without any guidance. The second chef must only make a single, perfect cake, but they have the perfect recipe (the mRNA instructions).  This is like mRNA because you now have the recipe, and can perfect your craft as necessary without nearly as much trial and error. 

Now that these scientists have figured out how to go about this vaccine procedure, they can apply it to countless other vaccines, including any possible variations of COVID that may develop in the future. Additionally, they can possibly find cures for other illnesses that seem impossible to cure right now. The discovery of mRNA  is a breakthrough in the vaccination field, which will hopefully lead to many more discoveries ahead of us. And hopefully, with this new technology, distribution of the vaccine will be swift and the whole pandemic will be over before the summer.