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How does the COVID-19 vaccine work?

Moderna Inc. is now entering Phase 3 clinical trials for one of the most promising COVID-19 vaccines currently in development.

SEATTLE — More than a dozen potential COVID-19 vaccines are in development around the world, and a few are now entering the final phase of human test trials.

So far, only five companies have reached advanced clinical trials and seek to introduce a vaccine as early as the end of this year or early 2021.

Among the most promising so far is the vaccine being developed by Moderna Inc

"This is really the great public health challenge for all generations," said Geoffrey Baird M.D., Ph.D., a board-certified pathologist at UW Medicine, and acting chair of Laboratory Medicine.

Baird said he is encouraged by the results seen in test trials so far. So, how does it work?

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The Moderna Inc. vaccine works by injecting 0.1 milligrams of a lab-engineered piece of Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) into the body. The RNA works like a set of instructions for the body to begin creating antibodies. It does this by creating spike proteins on the outside of some cells to fend off any coronavirus. The spikes look just like the spikes on the outside of the virus that causes COVID-19.

The vaccine is being inoculated in two separate doses, each about a month apart.

"In the vaccine trial, one of the first thing they saw is people felt a little sick,” explained Baird. “They had some chills, some fever, and it made them feel under the weather. And that's a sign, believe it or not, that it's working. Your body is building an immune response."

Baird reiterated that the COVID-19 vaccine does not cause COVID-19.

Around 30,000 test patients were recruited as part of the Moderna Inc. vaccine trial. Half of the test patients (15,000 people) are injected with the vaccine, and the other 15,000 receive a placebo.

Scientists are hoping many of the test subjects who received the placebo will stumble into the virus naturally out in the community and become infected. That way, researchers will know if the vaccine is working properly.

Scientists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, are “cautiously optimistic” that a vaccine will be available to some groups before the end of 2020.

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