Now in use against coronavirus, mRNA can do so much more; plus the latest virus news

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When the final Phase 3 data came out last November showing the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna were more than 90% effective, Dr. Anthony Fauci had no words. He texted smiley face emojis to a journalist seeking his reaction.

This astonishing efficacy has held up in real-world studies in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere. The mRNA technology — developed for its speed and flexibility as opposed to expectations it would provide strong protection against an infectious disease — has pleased and astonished even those who already advocated for it.

The messenger RNA, or mRNA, platform may be new to the global public, but it’s a technology that researchers had been betting on for decades. Now those bets are paying off, and not just by turning back a pandemic that killed millions in just a year.

This approach that led to remarkably safe and effective vaccines against a new virus is also showing promise against old enemies such as HIV, and infections that threaten babies and young children, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and metapneumovirus. It’s being tested as a treatment for cancers, including melanoma and brain tumors. It might offer a new way to treat autoimmune diseases. And it’s also being checked out as a possible alternative to gene therapy for intractable conditions such as sickle cell disease.

In other developments:

  • COVID-19 vaccines have allowed nursing homes in the U.S. to make dramatic progress since the dark days of the pandemic, but senior care facilities are still experiencing scattered outbreaks that are largely blamed on unvaccinated staff members.
  • New Mexico is betting big that cash can persuade people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, offering the largest single cash prize among the growing number of states staging lotteries to promote inoculations.
  • Greece, Germany and five other European Union nations have introduced a vaccination certificate system for travelers weeks ahead of the July 1 rollout of the program across the 27-nation bloc.
  • A terminal at London’s Heathrow Airport that was mothballed because of the coronavirus pandemic has been reopened for passengers arriving from high-risk countries.
  • It’s been five weeks since the Biden administration announced plans to share millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses with the world by the end of June. The central question: What share of doses should be provided to those who need it most, and how many should be reserved for U.S. partners?
  • It’s sinking in that Japan’s scramble to catch up on a frustratingly slow vaccination drive less than two months before the Summer Olympics start may be too little, too late.
  • ​​​​The World Health Organization has issued an emergency use listing for the COVID-19 vaccine made by Sinovac in adults 18 and over.
  • A city of 46,000 in Brazil is giving hope to millions of people taking the COVID-19 shot developed by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac.