Pfizer and Moderna grabbed headlines, and ushered in hope, in announcing this month that each company has vaccines that preliminary data suggest being 90-94% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections. This news is a much-needed salve to a world that has surpassed 1.37M deaths from COVID-19 since January 2020.

These genetic vaccines are different from other vaccines, like those for the flu, measles, and polio, that we’ve benefited from for decades. Traditional vaccines, like that for measles, work by injecting a small amount of a weakened form of the virus into the body. Our white blood cells sense the virus and mount a defense against it by creating specific antibodies to fight it. Our immune system has cells, called T-lymphocytes, that remember that virus, so if our body encounters measles in the future, we can make the antibodies needed to fight it immediately. These traditional vaccines take years, or decades, to create, test, and be approved, and are expensive to produce.

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