The design of Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines involves many different types of optimizations. Proper optimization of vaccine mRNA can reduce dosage required for each injection leading to more efficient immunization programs. The mRNA components of the vaccine need to have a 5′-UTR to load ribosomes efficiently onto the mRNA for translation initiation, optimized codon usage for efficient translation elongation, and optimal stop codon for efficient translation termination. Both 5′-UTR and the downstream 3′-UTR should be optimized for mRNA stability. The replacement of uridine by N1-methylpseudourinine (
) complicates some of these optimization processes because
is more versatile in wobbling than U. Different optimizations can conflict with each other, and compromises would need to be made. I highlight the similarities and differences between Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines and discuss the advantage and disadvantage of each to facilitate future vaccine improvement. In particular, I point out a few optimizations in the design of the two mRNA vaccines that have not been performed properly.
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