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Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines – cdc.gov

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The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are messenger RNA vaccines also called mRNA vaccines. mRNA vaccines are some of the first COVID-19 vaccines authorized and approved for use in the United States.
To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. Not mRNA vaccines. Instead, mRNA vaccines use mRNA created in a laboratory to teach our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.
COVID-19 mRNA vaccines cannot give someone the virus that causes COVID-19 or other viruses.
They do not affect or interact with our DNA in any way.
The mRNA and the spike protein don’t last long in the body.
mRNA vaccines are safe and effective.
mRNA vaccines have been held to the same rigorous safety and effectiveness standardsexternal icon as all other types of vaccines in the United States. The only COVID-19 vaccines the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes available for use in the United States (by approval or emergency use authorization) are those that meet these standards.
While COVID-19 vaccines were developed rapidly, all steps have been taken to ensure their safety and effectiveness.
Researchers have been studying and working with mRNA vaccines for decades. Interest has grown in these vaccines because they can be developed in a laboratory using readily available materials. This means vaccines can be developed and produced in large quantities faster than with other methods for making vaccines.
mRNA vaccines have been studied before for flu, Zika, rabies, and cytomegalovirus (CMV). As soon as the necessary information about the virus that causes COVID-19 was available, scientists began designing the mRNA instructions for cells to build the unique spike protein into an mRNA vaccine.
Future mRNA vaccine technology may allow for one vaccine to provide protection against multiple diseases, thus decreasing the number of shots needed for protection against common vaccine-preventable diseases.
Beyond vaccines, cancer research has used mRNA to trigger the immune system to target specific cancer cells.
Learn more about getting your vaccine.
PDF infographic explaining how mRNA COVID-19 vaccines work.
COVID-19 Clinical and Professional Resources
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