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Exploring Types of Vaccines – Traditional vs. mRNA

January 15, 2021

Knowledge is one key to successfully managing your health. With vaccines being distributed across the nation throughout early 2021, it is important to understand the basics of vaccination.

Not all vaccines work the same way. Traditional vaccinations, like the flu shot, typically introduce a small amount of a virus to the body. This causes you to build immunity against a specific kind of sickness.

But thanks to scientific advancements, a different type of vaccination is on the horizon. Known as messenger RNA (mRNA), these new vaccines are changing how you can stay safe from illness — including COVID-19.

Traditional vaccines

Traditional vaccines work by helping your body develop antibodies, allowing you to fight off infection. There are four main types:

  1. Live-attenuated vaccines
    Examples: chickenpox, measles, mumps, rubella
    Live vaccines are highly effective. In fact, just one or two doses can give you long-term immunity.

    Because live vaccines contain a small amount of a virus, always check with your doctor before receiving them — especially if you have a weakened immune system.
  2. Inactivated vaccines
    Examples: Hepatitis A, flu shot, rabies

    Inactivated vaccines use a version of a virus germ that is no longer alive. Like live vaccines, they trigger your body to produce antibodies.

    One downside to some inactive vaccines is their short-lived protection. You may need regular doses or a booster shot to stay up to date. (The flu shot is also unique in that because the influenza virus changes slightly year to year, you need to get a new flu shot each year.)
  3. Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines
    Examples: shingles, HPV, whooping cough

    This type of vaccine uses specific pieces of a virus — its protein or sugar — to spark your immune response. Like inactivated vaccines, you may need a booster shot from time to time.
    A major benefit is this type of vaccine can be given to almost anyone who needs it. This includes people with chronic health concerns or weakened immune systems.
  4. Toxoid vaccines
    Examples: tetanus, diphtheria

    Toxoid vaccines use a small amount of toxin made by the germ that creates disease. They build immunity to the part of the germ causing your body a problem. As with other types of vaccines, you may need booster shots for continued protection.

Next generation vaccines - mRNA

mRNA vaccines are exciting advancements in gene-based research. They work differently than traditional vaccinations. Rather than introducing a virus to your system, messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) works with the cells that make proteins in your body. The mRNA teaches those cells how to make a specific protein to create an immune response against a particular sickness, such as COVID-19.

A few quick facts about mRNA vaccines:

  • mRNA vaccines are unique because they do not contain a live virus, so there is no risk of causing sickness in the vaccinated person.
  • mRNA vaccines are highly effective and fast to develop, compared to traditional vaccines, which can take months or years.

mRNA technology has been researched for more than 10 years. It is even being studied for the treatment of wide-spread disease like Zika virus, rabies, the flu, and cancer.

This new vaccine has already given the world hope in halting the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more about the COVID-19 vaccine. Given its promise in the medical field and encouraging results, the potential of mRNA vaccines is a technology worth watching to protect you and your loved ones.