This Vaccine Will Soon "Become Obsolete," Expert Says
The race to see which company would finish creating a COVID vaccine and acquire emergency-use authorization first was tight. Pfizer's COVID vaccine was ultimately the first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use in the U.S. on Dec. 11—it was fully approved on Aug. 23—and Moderna's emergency approval followed shortly thereafter on Dec. 18. Johnson & Johnson was approved for emergency use some time later, on Feb. 27. But the differences between these vaccines don't stop there. While Pfizer and Moderna are both administered in two doses, Johnson & Johnson is a one-and-done vaccine. And Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines, while Johnson & Johnson is a viral vector vaccine. That fact alone could mean the latter is on its way out. Some experts believe that viral vector vaccines will soon disappear, as mRNA vaccines become the main solution to combat COVID and other diseases.
Arnaud Bernaert, formerly the head of Global Health and Healthcare at the World Economic Forum, told Yahoo Finance on Sept. 7 that "viral vector technologies are going to become obsolete," while mRNA vaccines dominate. One of the reasons he believes mRNA vaccines are dominant is because they can be developed in a shorter period of time. "I think it's game over. I think it's mRNA or nothing. [Other technology] takes too long," Bernaert said.
Another asset of mRNA vaccines is their adaptability. The mRNA vaccines are more malleable and allow scientists to adjust the vaccine fairly easily to address new variants. "If success needs to be defined as a function of the agility of a manufacturer to be able to reposition the DNA template for combating the next variant, I don't think the U.S. and Europe will do anything else but buy mRNA vaccines" moving forward, Bernaert predicted. The mRNA vaccines "will represent 60 percent or 70 percent of the market. The other guys will die."
According to the Mayo Clinic, mRNA COVID vaccines use genetically engineered messenger RNA to instruct your cells how to make the S protein found on the surface of the COVID virus. Once you receive an mRNA vaccine, your immune cells start to make the necessary S protein, and then display them on your cell's surfaces, which leads your body to create antibodies. If you come into contact with the coronavirus down the line, these antibodies will know how to fight it off.
Meanwhile, with viral vector COVID vaccines, material from the COVID virus is placed inside a modified version of another virus. That virus then goes inside your cells and instructs them to make copies of the S protein. Your cells will display the S protein on their surface, and your immune system will create antibodies and white blood cells in response. Similar to the mRNA vaccine, if you're infected with COVID, the antibodies will know how to fight off the virus.
Millions of Americans have received the viral vector Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and millions more abroad have gotten AstraZeneca's COVID shot, which is another viral vector vaccine. Both of these vaccines are highly effective, but they have also experienced more setbacks in the public eye than Pfizer's or Moderna's shots have.
In April, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) paused the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine following reports of a connection between the vaccine and rare blood clots. (The agencies lifted the pause after reviewing the data.) A handful of countries abroad, including the Netherlands and Ireland, paused the use of AstraZeneca for the same reason, though that vaccine is also back in use.
Ultimately, viral vector vaccines are safe and protective against COVID, despite some of the headlines they have generated over the past year. Nevertheless, since mRNA vaccines are more adaptable and faster to develop, they may eventually reign supreme in the industry.