The world took note when the German start-up BioNTech announced its breakthrough in the development of a new type of vaccine to combat COVID-19. After testing tens of thousands of people, BioNTech’s vaccine has been shown to be 95% effective in providing protection for those who would otherwise have been infected. The company was the first to apply for emergency use authorization for a coronavirus vaccine in the United States, and it has announced that it will soon take similar steps in Europe.

Anti-viral vaccines are usually made with devitalized viral materials fabricated outside the body, but BioNTech has pursued a new method of injecting genetically modified RNA into the patient. This prompts the patient’s cells to produce a characteristic protein of the relevant SARS-CoV-2 virus themselves, enabling the body’s immune system to build up an effective response before it encounters the real virus.

The great advantage of this approach is that it allows for the production of more than one billion vaccine doses within the space of just a few months. It is also highly safe, because the modified RNA can survive only at a very low temperature, and quickly degrades in the body once it has performed its job. Any subsequent damage to the body is therefore extremely unlikely.