mRNA vaccines utilize messenger RNA molecules to instruct cells in the body to generate specific proteins. In the case of coronavirus vaccines, mRNA directs cells to produce copies of the spike protein, triggering an immune response and the production of antibodies.

Working of mRNA Vaccine:

  • UPSC Mains answer practice — GS 3 (Week 19) How mRNA vaccines work. (Source: Bloomberg)
  • Traditional vaccines rely on introducing weakened or inactivated viruses to stimulate an immune response. mRNA vaccines, on the other hand, use messenger RNA to convey a message to the immune system, avoiding the need for live viruses.
  • The development of mRNA vaccines was crucial during the Covid-19 pandemic when the need for a rapid response against the highly contagious virus was paramount.
  • Unlike traditional methods, mRNA technology allows for large-scale production without the need for cell culture, expediting the vaccine development process.
  • Although the concept of mRNA technology existed since the 1980s, it was not perfected for large-scale vaccine production until the urgent necessity brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Genetically engineered mRNA enables cells to produce specific proteins essential for combating a particular virus.

Examples in Indian Context:

  • India’s vaccination drive against Covid-19 saw the deployment of both traditional and mRNA vaccines. Covaxin, an inactivated virus vaccine, and Covishield, which uses a viral vector, followed traditional vaccine development methods.
  • In contrast, the mRNA vaccine Covovax, developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with Ocugen and produced in India, represents the country’s venture into mRNA technology.


Nobel laureates Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman were awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their groundbreaking work on mRNA vaccines, highlighting the significance of their contributions to the global fight against Covid-19.

The recognition of the challenges in using genetically engineered mRNA, such as its recognition as a foreign substance by dendritic cells, underscores the complexity and innovation involved in developing mRNA vaccines.

By combining traditional and modern vaccine technologies, India exemplifies adaptability in addressing public health challenges, showcasing the versatility and efficacy of mRNA vaccines in the broader context of immunization strategies.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish December 8, 2023