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Will the COVID-19 vaccine impact my possibility to have gene therapy?

Gene therapy uses viruses to deliver a micro-dystrophin gene or an exon skipping gene. COVID-19 is a virus. If I get vaccinated for COVID-19, will this have an impact on my possibility to have gene therapy treatment in the future?

Short answer: no.

The COVID-19 vaccine, just as any other mRNA vaccines will not impact gene therapy for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). Each vaccine targets a different virus and does not recognize the proteins from virus used for the gene therapy.

Not all viruses are the same

Long answer: There are many species of viruses that differ from each other, just like species of animals are different. Most viruses are made of genetic material and a protein shell that is unique to each species of virus. This protein shell is what our body recognizes when a specific virus infects us – these are proteins that are not normally seen in the human body.

As a result, the body generates an immune response to these non-human proteins and will kill the infected cells (and thus also the viruses). Our immune system has a memory – once they have seen a certain virus protein, the next time they see it, they will be able to clear away the virus more efficiently, before it can do any harm.

How vaccines work

A vaccine makes use of this system. But injecting people with a living virus could be dangerous. Instead, a part of the protein shell is used, or a small piece of genetic material that will be translated into part of the protein shell (mRNA vaccines). The immune system recognizes the protein as non-human and generates an immune response. Because of their memory, when the real virus arrives, they recognize the same protein and will be able to efficiently clear away the virus before it can do harm. This is why vaccination works – not just for COVID-19, but also for polio, small-pox etc.


For what vaccines work

However, vaccination only works for that virus you were vaccinated for – as different species of virus have different protein shells. So, a flu vaccine does not make you immune for corona viruses. And a polio vaccine does not protect you against small-pox. This is also why you have to get vaccines for different diseases when you grow up.

Gene therapy versus vaccines: fish vs dogs

Gene therapy for DMD uses adeno associated virus (AAV). This is an entirely different species of virus from the corona virus. Taking it back to the animal species comparison, it’s like comparing fish with dogs. The fact that your immune system can recognize corona and clear it, does not mean it will also recognize AAV. It won’t because it does not recognize the proteins from the AAV virus shell.

This answer has been provided by Prof. Dr. Annemieke Aartsma-Rus, professor of translational genetics at the department of Human Genetics at the Leiden University Medical Center.