UAB doctor shares history that led to COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough, hoping to calm concerns


HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – One researcher at UAB is trying to answer a major concern people have about how fast COVID-19 vaccines were developed. Alabama ranks 49th in the U.S. in COVID vaccinations per 100,000.

Doctor Moon Nahm, the Director of UAB’s Bacterial Respiratory Pathogen Reference Laboratory says it was hesitation by his own family that prompted him to write an article about the history leading to the development of COVID-19 vaccines.

“They were a little bit skeptical about the fast production. I told them that vaccine took a long time and it has deep roots going back decades,” said Moon.

Doctor Moon has been studying different types of vaccines predating the COVID-19 pandemic.

RNA, which is in all living cells, carries messages or mRNA to our DNA. That’s the method in which the COVID vaccine works its magic. According to Moon, manipulating that process has been a point of study for decades.

“You kind of have to spice up that messenger RNA with some different chemicals,” explained Moon.

That process started with two researchers in the 90’s and then companies started to see the potential in mRNA.

“Companies like Moderna learned this basic finding about 10-years ago. They recognized the importance of the findings in production of vaccines,” said Moon.

Decades of successful and unsuccessful research was furthered by the National Institutes of Health and their 10 partner labs at various universities. The process used in the COVID-19 vaccines was also used by the labs to attempt to find solutions to flu and HIV.

“The knowledge they have accumulated can really help other situation like COVID,” said Moon.

So yes, the vaccines were ready within a year. Faster than ever before. But had the US been behind in research and tax payer developed vaccine infrastructure, Moon says we would not see the results we ended up getting.

“Without that capability, even if we had a vaccine, we would not have been able to show its efficacy in such a quick time,” said Moon.

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