One in Four Pfizer COVID Vaccine Recipients Exhibit Unexpected Immune Reactions

A recent study has found that more than a quarter of individuals who received mRNA Covid vaccines experienced unintended immune responses due to a glitch in the way the vaccines were processed by the body. 

While no adverse effects were observed, the study conducted by Cambridge scientists revealed that these vaccines were not entirely perfect and could sometimes result in the production of nonsensical proteins instead of the desired Covid “spike” protein, which triggers antibody production.

mRNA vaccines, such as those developed by Moderna and Pfizer, use genetic material to instruct the body to produce a specific protein that mimics an infection. In the past, RNA-based research faced challenges because the body often treated RNA as a foreign invader. 

However, the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2023 was awarded to scientists who had worked to address this issue by replacing one of the RNA bases, uridine, with a synthetic alternative, allowing the creation of proteins without triggering an immune response.

The study conducted by the University of Cambridge’s Medical Research Council (MRC) Toxicology Unit discovered that when this partially synthetic code was read, the protein-making process in the body sometimes struggled with the uridine analogs. 

This resulted in a momentary pause, leading to the skipping of a code letter, similar to a bicycle slipping a gear. This process, known as frameshifting, disrupted the reading of codons (groups of three bases) in the right order.

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Tackling Immune Responses in mRNA COVID Vaccines

pfizer-covid-vaccine-recipients-exhibit-unexpected-immune-reactions
A recent study has found that more than a quarter of individuals who received mRNA Covid vaccines experienced unintended immune responses due to a glitch in the way the vaccines were processed by the body.

In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, this frameshifting issue led to the creation of a nonsensical and harmless protein, triggering an immune system response in approximately 25-30% of individuals. While the Covid vaccine provided strong protection against the virus, this off-target effect was previously unknown. 

The researchers noted that future mRNA vaccines for other diseases or infections could potentially lead to the creation of active, unintended proteins in the body.

The study emphasized that there is currently no evidence of this occurring with COVID-19 vaccines, and any issues with future mRNA therapeutics would likely be detected in early trials. 

The researchers proposed a solution to eradicate frameshifting events by modifying the mRNA drug’s code to reduce the use of problematic pseudo-uridine, replacing it with a natural base that maintains the correct amino acid sequence.

These findings were shared with the medicines regulator MHRA approximately a year ago, and updated vaccines using the improved mRNA code are being developed for cancer vaccines and other therapeutics. 

Despite the decoding issues, the researchers stressed that mRNA vaccination against COVID-19 is safe and has saved lives worldwide.

Professor Anne Willis, co-senior study author and director of the MRC Toxicology Unit, described the technology as revolutionary and emphasized that addressing the frameshifting issue seriously enhances the safety of the platform for future medical applications.

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