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HomeNewsNews & Featured StoriesBehind the science: What is an mRNA vaccine?

25/08/2020 (updated March 2023)

Behind the science: What is an mRNA vaccine?Vaccines are considered one of the greatest developments of modern medicine, helping to nearly wipe out many infectious diseases.1 But creating and developing vaccines involves a long and complex process2 that remains a combination of art and science.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers and scientists around the world worked to develop potential vaccines. Given the urgency of the pandemic, strong partnership across the research and healthcare community was vital, sharing scientific knowledge, people and resources to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak.

In collaboration with German biotech company BioNTech, at Pfizer, we focused efforts on a technology called an mRNA vaccine.3 Unlike conventional vaccines, which are produced using weakened forms of the virus,4 RNA vaccines can be constructed quickly using only the pathogen’s genetic code.5

Many standard vaccines work by injecting a dead or weakened form of the pathogen into the body in preparations that are designed not to make you sick but rather to build immunity. The key to building this immunity is that the portion of the pathogen called the antigen trains the immune system to recognise and respond to the infectious agent.5

RNA vaccines work by introducing into the body a messenger RNA (mRNA) sequence that contains the genetic instructions for the vaccinated person’s own cells to produce the vaccine antigens and generate an immune response.5

Find out more:


  1. Hogan, M.J. et al. mRNA vaccines - a new era in vaccinology. Accessed March 2023

  2. IFPMA. The complex journey of a vaccine. Accessed March 2023

  3. Pfizer. Pfizer and BioNtech to co-develop potential Covid-19 vaccine. Accessed March 2023

  4. NHS. Why vaccination is safe and important. Accessed March 2023

  5. PHG Foundation. RNA vaccines: an introduction. Accessed March 2023

PP-UNP-GBR-4127 / March 2023
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