It usually takes years to make an effective vaccine. The record was four years for mumps. We first heard about COVID in early 2020 and we now have two effective COVID vaccines. How did this happen? It’s a little complicated, but let’s try.
First, we knew exactly what the virus was very quickly. Ten weeks after COVID was identified, the DNA structure was published. This means we had the COVID cookbook. Advancements in computer technology allows us to figure out DNA sequences quickly and that means we knew COVID’s strengths and weaknesses. COVID had no secrets.
Second, we had seen diseases like COVID before and made vaccines for them. COVID is a kind of coronavirus with spikes on its surface and this is what allows it to get into our cells. We also could make a good guess about what the spikes were made of because we had the COVID DNA and the DNA from other coronaviruses. We knew the spikes material in the other coronaviruses, and we could look for that material in the DNA of the COVID virus. If there was the same DNA sequence in both, then we had a match. In turns out that the spikes in COVID and the other coronavirus were very similar. The spikes were the key to the vaccine.
Last, artificial intelligence (AI) gave us the ability to test many mRNA sequences to see if it could make the spike that would allow our immune system to attack it. AI also showed us that we didn’t even have to make the whole spike to make our immune system go to work. AI found out that if we could just find the mRNA to make a piece of the spike, that would be good enough.
1. We knew what COVID was made of because we had the DNA sequence
2. We had seen this kind of virus before and had a head start on a vaccine
3. We could run a lot of vaccine possibilities on the computer to see what worked
This information allowed us to figure out the piece of spike we needed to make, how to make it and why it would give the proper immune response.
Many scientists from biology, chemistry, computer science and physics worked on the vaccine and we should be thankful they are working so hard for us.