Vaccines Are Coming: And They’re Not Your Parents’ Vaccines

Elvis Polio Vaccination

This article is an introduction to Epidemic Episode 53: Vaccines Are Coming with Kizzmekia Corbett, Sree Chaguturu, and Julie Rosenberg. Hosted by Dr. Celine Gounder, Friday, December 4, 2020. 

“I worked on these vaccines, literally from day one…And I cried, because it absolutely shattered any expectations that I could have had.” –Kizzmekia Corbett

It’s a revolutionary time for vaccines. The FDA is currently reviewing two COVID vaccines.  Both vaccines take a unique approach to triggering an immune response, which is going to change how we think about vaccines and vaccine delivery going forward. 

In the latest episode of EPIDEMIC, National Institutes of Health viral immunologist Kizzmekia Corbett explains how the Moderna vaccine came together and how it works. Sree Chaguturu, the Chief Medical Officer for CVS Caremark, talks about what they learned from a 5,000-person national survey about what people want in terms of vaccine distribution and, surprisingly, which demographic groups may be most hesitant about taking the vaccine. And we also hear from Julie Rosenberg of Harvard’s Global Health Delivery Project about approaches to vaccine distribution and how to get millions of people vaccinated, quickly. 

Traditional Vaccines 101

Vaccines prime and prepare your immune system to fight off a virus. Successful vaccines developed in the 1950s and 1960s take a couple of approaches.  There are the “live-attenuated vaccines” for smallpox and measles. They expose you to a virus so weak it doesn’t make you sick, but it’s enough to trigger an immune response. Or “inactivated” vaccines, like flu shots, which expose you to a dead virus that the body recognizes as something bad and mounts an immune response to get rid of it. 

21st-Century Vaccines (the ones that will fight COVID)

As technology progressed, scientists learned they don’t need to generate an immune response to an entire virus to create immunity. Often it’s good enough to make an immune response to just one part of the virus. That’s how the new coronavirus vaccines work. They use a technology called mRNA. So what is mRNA and how does it create immunity? And what are the current advantages and drawbacks? 

And what role did Elvis play in fighting polio in the 1950s? It’s all in Episode 53 of EPIDEMIC. Listen now: Vaccines Are Coming.

Photo: Elvis Presley gets his Polio Shot, October 28, 1956.