We've heard the phrase "mRNA vaccine" tossed around a lot lately, but that doesn't mean all of us (raises hand) understand what it means or how this type of vaccine works. So I am 100 percent here for actor Vick Krishna's TikTok explainer on how exactly COVID-19 mRNA vaccines work in the body. It's dramatic, hilarious, and — when we fact-checked it against the CDC's mRNA vaccine explanation — factually correct.
To put it simply, mRNA vaccines are different from most vaccines we're used to, because they don't insert a weakened or inactivated germ into our body to trigger an immune response. Instead, they teach our cells how to make a protein or piece of a protein, which then prompts an immune response that protects us if the real virus enters our bodies. The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines both use this method.
So, does Krishna's TikTok get it right? Let's go scene by scene. First, we see the mRNA running in with "instructions," telling the ribosome of an immune cell to make a spike protein (aka "fork hands" in the TikTok). According to the CDC, this is correct; the mRNA's job is to come in and tell the cells to create these spike proteins, which, though harmless on their own, are found on the surface of SARS-COV-2 virus. Once the mRNA's message is delivered and the proteins are created, the cell destroys the mRNA, which we see happening in the TikTok in an epically dramatized way when the mRNA shrivels up and perishes in a cloud of fog (love it).
The body's medical coat-clad immune system sees the new protein (in the body, the spike proteins are displayed on the surface of the immune cells), recognizes it doesn't belong, and creates the correct antibodies to combat the new, unfamiliar antigen. To get that across in the TikTok, Krishna portrays an antibody with special hands that can recognize and fight the "fork-handed" COVID-19 particles. By the time the actual SARS-COV-2 virus makes its way into the body, the immune system is ready to go with its COVID-19 antibodies, which successfully fight and destroy the virus.
So yep, this TikTok checks out. On Twitter, where the clip is quickly going viral, one emergency room physician called it "the best explanation I've seen for how mRNA vaccines work!" And we're down for anything helps us wrap our heads around an effective new vaccine that people are already receiving around the world.