A hilarious explanation of how the mRNA vaccine works that anyone can understand

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have become far more familiar with epidemiology and immunology than we ever planned to be. For those of us who are not particularly science-minded, it's been a heck of a journey. Some of us appreciate science and have the utmost respect for scientists, but harbor zero desire to delve into the scientific details ourselves. Or at least we didn't, before a stupid virus upended life as we know it.

Some viral terminology has become household vocab at this point. (Seriously, who ever expected "infection rates" and "variants" to be things the average American discusses around the dinner table?) Others have been a bit hard to grasp, like how the mRNA vaccine works.

You know when you're studying a tricky topic and you come across a word you don't know, but when you look up the word the definition had three other words you have to look up, and each of those definitions have words you don't know, and so on? That's what it's like to try to understand the mRNA vaccine for the average non-scientist.


We do want to know how it works, though. From what the sciencey folks say, it's an amazing breakthrough with far-reaching potential that could change the game for lots of diseases. If we're going to inject something into our bodies, we should know what it's doing. We just don't want to have to get a degree in virology to understand it.

There are some good basic explainers out there that simplify how the mRNA vaccine works, but most of them still include terms and concepts that we feel like we should probably remember from high school biology class but don't. What we need (or want) is someone to explain it to us like we're five.

Thankfully, somebody has.

Vick Krishna has dramatized what happens when the mRNA vaccine goes into your body in a TikTok video, and it's the clearest layman's explanation a non-scientist could hope for. For those of us who have a hard time visualizing the whole mRNA-spike protein-ribosome-antigen-antibody thing, this skit makes it super easy to see exactly how it works.

If you want to get slightly more scientific about it, the vaccine sends mRNA (literally "messenger" RNA) into your body with instructions for how to manufacture the spike proteins (pokey, fork-like proteins) that exist on the outside of the coronavirus. Your ribosomes follow the instructions and make the spike protein. In the meantime, your body (rather poetically) kills the messenger RNA. Your immune system sees the spike protein your ribosomes made, kicks into gear, and starts making the antibodies that will destroy the spike protein whenever it sees it (and by extension, whatever it's attached to, like the coronavirus). Then, if/when the coronavirus invades your body, your immune system is ready. It has the antibodies ready to deploy to take the virus out by attacking those spike proteins.

Cool, huh? Not nearly as fun of an explanation as "fork hands," though.

Doctors, immunologists, and epidemiologists are praising Krishna's simple skit for how clear it makes the mRNA vaccine process, with some dubbing his video a masterclass in science communication. Naturally, it's a bit more complex than that in reality, but the basics are all most of us really need to (or want to) know. More of this kind of science lesson, please, across the board.

You can follow Vick Krishna on TikTok and Instagram.

Need a mood boost to help you sail through the weekend? Here are 10 moments that brought joy to our hearts and a smile to our faces this week. Enjoy!

1. How much does this sweet little boy adore his baby sister? So darn much.

Oh, to be loved with this much enthusiasm! The sheer adoration on his face. What a lucky little sister.

2. Teens raise thousands for their senior trip, then donate it to their community instead.

When it came time for Islesboro Central School's Class of 2021 to pick the destination for their senior class trip, the students began eyeing a trip to Greece or maybe even South Korea. But in the end, they decided to donate $5,000 they'd raised for the trip to help out their community members struggling in the wake of the pandemic instead.

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