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Possible COVID-19 vaccines: Understanding the different types

Researchers are testing more than one type of vaccine that could end up being available.
Credit: AP
FILE - In this Wednesday, June 24, 2020 file photo, a volunteer receives an injection at the Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital in Soweto, Johannesburg. This is part of Africa's first participation in a COVID-19 vaccine trial developed at the University of Oxford in Britain in conjunction with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Pool via AP)

TAMPA, Fla. — As the race to find a vaccine against COVID-19 heats up, you probably never realized researchers are testing more than one type of vaccine that could end up being available. 

However, doctors say there will be multiple vaccines on the market, and they might all work in different ways.  

"When you hear vaccine, you're just thinking vaccine. You're not thinking there's four different kinds of vaccines out there, and how they work in your body are going to be different,” said Dr. Kevin Sneed of the University of South Florida.

Sneed says he has questions about each. 

"Number one, will they all work to the very same extent? And then, number two, will there be one that may be safer than another?" he said.

The first thing to understand: The virus has what's called a "spike protein" it uses to invade your cells and replicate. And vaccines can work by blocking it from getting in.

So, what are some of these vaccines? One type is an mRNA vaccine, which is what Moderna is testing.

"It kind of turns on the RNA machinery in your body so...it kind of tells your body to make its own army inside of you,” Sneed said.

Dr. Kami Kim, also of USF, added: “Messenger RNA that is put into small particles that can be taken up by the cells and then sort of trick yourself into making the spike protein and then helping your body to have a more natural immune response to it."

There are also protein-based vaccines that include viruses.

"There are viruses in vaccines that are proteins that are sort of packaged with different compounds that will help the immune response,” Kim said.

Additionally, there are vaccines with coronaviruses that are too weak to reproduce in your body, but strong enough to trigger an immune response to fight it off.

It's a lot of information to process, but doctors say don't hesitate to talk to your health care provider for answers.

“We want people to understand what's going on so...they should ask questions about their health, their family's health, and make sure that they really understand what's going on,” Kim said.

Doctors say one of the ways they measure the effectiveness of the vaccine is by taking a patient's blood and measuring the antibodies to see if it stimulated the right immune response.

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