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University of Pennsylvania

The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Use of mRNA Vaccines

University of Pennsylvania via edX


As COVID-19 continues to affect the world, many people want to learn more about the vaccines developed to tame the pandemic. This short course from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania teaches learners the science behind the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the mRNA vaccine platform developed against it. Taught by a team of experts led by Dr. Drew Weissman, a pioneer of the mRNA vaccine technology, this course briefly explains:

  • a useful framework for understanding viral epidemics and pandemics
  • what a virus is and how viruses cause diseases
  • the various types of vaccines and how they work
  • some details about coronaviruses, including the ones that have transferred from animals to humans
  • the basic science and development of mRNA vaccines
  • the clinical aspects of COVID-19 disease
  • the clinical aspects, side effects, and effectiveness of mRNA vaccines for COVID-19
  • answers to common questions and concerns about mRNA vaccines for COVID-19, and
  • some potential future applications of mRNA vaccines

Please note:

This course is designed for educational purposes only. It does not provide or constitute medical advice or professional services. The information in this course should not be used for diagnosing or treating any health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your health care provider.

The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 mRNA vaccines mentioned in this course both use licensed University of Pennsylvania technology. As a result of these licensing relationships, Penn and Dr. Weissman have received and may continue to receive significant financial benefits in the future based on the sale of these products. BioNTech provides funding for Dr. Weissman’s research into the development of additional infectious disease vaccines.


Module 1:

  • Examine the factors that led to viral pandemics throughout the 20th century to present day
  • Distinguish among different types of viruses and how they are transmitted
  • Explain some of the properties of coronaviruses that have transferred from animals to humans

Module 2:

  • Summarize how nucleoside-modified mRNA-LNP vaccines were successfully developed and how they work
  • Discuss the clinical aspects of COVID-19 as well as the efficacy, safety, and side effects of the mRNA-LNP vaccines developed against it
  • Recognize the potential for mRNA-LNP technology to combat other diseases in addition to COVID-19

Taught by

Drew Weissman, Gregory Bisson, Stuart Isaacs, Susan Weiss, Norbert Pardi and Ian Frank


5.0 rating, based on 1 Class Central review

Start your review of The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Use of mRNA Vaccines

  • An excellent short course that explains how mRNA vaccines work against COVID-19, after a run-through of the history of pandemics and symptoms of the disease.

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