Moderna's promising COVID-19 vaccine, explained

Posted at 5:49 PM, Aug 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-18 19:46:21-05

TUCSON, Ariz. — KGUN 9 Anchor Pat Parris is enrolled in a promising COVID-19 Vaccine Trial in Tucson. He received his first dose earlier this week.

He has gotten several questions about Moderna's study, including how the vaccine is supposed to work.

It is a double blind study. Half of the participants receive two doses of the vaccine, 28 days apart. The other half get two injections of a placebo.

It is not the live virus. As Moderna's promotional video shows -- scientists actually identified the spike protein on the surface of the virus as a good vaccine candidate.

"The instructions for making the spike protein were then encoded into an instruction molecule called mRNA, which could be administered directly to patients as a vaccine," according to Moderna.

The body sees the mRNA and reacts as if cells have been infected with the virus. The immune cells of the body then learn about the spike protein, and will defend the body if it ever actual comes into contact with the coronavirus.

"Essentially, the patient makes their own vaccine," Moderna explained. "This cuts out the middle man."

The science behind this vaccine, and the data in early trials, is encouraging to researchers like the head of the Tucson trial Dr. Jack McGettigan.

"The data I saw from the past one published in the New England Journal, was very positive," said McGettigan. "It made me feel very happy to be part of this. I think it may prove to be, that's what we've got to figure out, it's certainly hopeful that it could be one of the answers we need."

Another frequent questions is how will they know it works?

Participants like Pat Parris have their blood regularly checked for antibodies to the virus.

The Tuson clinic is seeing about 20 participants per day, but that will ramp up over the next few weeks.

Dr. McGettigan hopes to have 1,000 Tucsonans enrolled in the trial. Nationally, Moderna expects to have 30,000 take part in the vaccine trial.