Myth Tested: A Jab From The Past

I’m going to try and post semi-regular posts that test common myths, old and new. This first one is highly topical, and has to do with mRNA vaccines, the basis of several of the leading COVID-19 vaccines.

Listen to anyone who are hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccines, and a concern they are very likely to share is that they feel the vaccines have been “rushed”, that they have been developed too fast for due dilligence to have been observed.

The concern is by no means unreasonable. COVID-19 was a complete unknown before December 2019, and only then could the work to bring a vaccine to the market begin. Considering that most vaccines take decades to bring to the market, and many deceases have yet to see a working vaccine.

The last thing first: one of the positive things we can say about COVID-19, it is that it is a reasonable easy virus to create a vaccine for, because it shares characteristics with many known deceases that we do have vaccines for. So we’re building on things we already know, standing on the shoulders of giants, as it were.

Then there’s the whole idea that less than two years to develop a new vaccine is just too short a time span to develop a working, safe vaccine.

But work on the mRNA technology didn’t start in 2019, it started in 1961. See the graph below for a partial history of the development of the technology.

So it is not a “new, experimental technology”, it was developed decades before it saw use in the COVID-19 vaccines. And that wasn’t even the first time it was used in vaccines or other treatments. This table isn’t even up to date, but shows that mRNA was used in vaccines and treatments for, among other things, infectuous deceases and cancer.

So basically, the researchers took a known, well-proven technology, mRNA, and applied it to a vaccine that shares a lot with a number of known vaccines against deceases very related to COVID-19. That is by no means a belittlement of what they acheived, but it does show that this is not a “new” thing, nor is it “experimental”. And add to that that the COVID-19 vaccines have been tested on tens of thousands before they were released to the public, same as other medications, and you actually have a safe and well-tested vaccine.

The graphs in this post come from the scientific journal Nature.

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