- Immunize for Immunity
Vaccine Development for COVID-19
Written by Christine Jahn Santos l Originally published April 20,2020
With the rise in the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the World Health Organization’s declaration of its status as a pandemic, also came the increase in interest for a vaccine.
While The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is the leader in the funding of federal research for a vaccine for COVID-19, there are also currently 39 private companies and organizations who are also working on a vaccine. But only a handful of them are currently in phase one testing.
The vaccine must pass through three stages of testing in order to be approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). This sounds easy enough but the caveat is that each phase usually takes about six to eight months.
Although it seems that the vaccine for the coronavirus is at an uninclined process, international research has actually been advanced by the information given by China about the genetic material of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This information allowed researchers to have live virus particles in the lab to be analyzed and observed.
Another advantage that current researchers and scientists are implementing into their studies include the manipulation of artificial intelligence. It is currently being used to accurately predict the shape of the spike protein on the coronavirus structure that attaches to and infects human cells.
This advantage has promoted scientists to develop a new protein that would adhere to the spike protein and prevent the coronavirus particles from infecting healthy human cells.
But even with these advancements and initiatives on the virus, many experts say that a vaccine won’t be ready for at least another 12-18 months.
In order to better understand why vaccine development is a gradual process, there should be a better understanding of how vaccines work in the first place.
The primary function that a virus pursues includes replicating and spreading itself to other hosts. It does this by reproducing itself as much as possible, and if the virus does this
enough times, the host cell would produce more viral material than its normal genetic material.
As this process gradually increases, the host cell would die and the virus would spread to other surrounding cells in order to restart the process. While the human body’s immune system is usually strong enough to fight off such viruses, sometimes the rate at which the virus replicates outpaces the immune system’s capacity to perform well.
Unfortunately, the immune system often gets weaker and more vulnerable with age. This can be seen with COVID-19 with its higher mortality rates for people aged 60 or older.
Vaccines help combat such viruses by providing immunity to the receiver. It does this by imitating an infection in order for the body’s immune system to be activated. Once the immune system is prompted, the body works to produce T-lymphocytes and antibodies. Once they fight off the infection, the immune system is able to remember how to fight that disease in the future and makes people less prone to the infection.
These vaccines are composed of four main types:live-attenuated vaccines, inactivated vaccines, subunit vaccines, and nucleic acid vaccines. The type being used to target COVID-19 is the nucleic acid-type vaccine, but there are some companies that are using live-attenuated vaccines.
Nucleic acid vaccines seek to replicate the genetic material of a virus. It stimulates the production of the viral material while also stimulating the production of the antibodies needed to fight off the infection. No type of vaccine like this has been authorized to be used on humans to date, so nucleic acid vaccines are still in question for treatment. Until researchers and scientists figure out the vaccine, please remember to wash your hands and follow the social distancing protocols from the World Health Organization.
CDC. (2014, May 1). Vaccine Testing and Approval Process. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/basics/test-approve.html
Edmonds, M. (2020, January 27). What is a virus, and how does it become a danger to human life? Retrieved April 2, 2020, from https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/cellular-microscopic/virus-danger.htm
Etzioni, O. (2020, March 28). AI Can Help Scientists Find a Covid-19 Vaccine. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.wired.com/story/opinion-ai-can-help-find-scientists-find-a-covid-19-vaccine/
McCord, M. (2020, March 25). Coronavirus vaccine: how soon will we have one? Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/vaccine-covid-19-coronavirus-pandemic-healthcare/
Oke, J., & Heneghan, C. (2020, March 31). Global Covid-19 Case Fatality Rates. Retrieved March 31, 2020, from https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/global-covid-19-case-fatality-rates/
Spinney, L. (2020, April 2). Coronavirus vaccine: when will it be ready? Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/02/coronavirus-vaccine-when-will-it-be-ready-covid-19
World Health Organization. (2020, March 9). Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19). Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses
Writers, S. (2019, November 22). How Vaccines Work. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.publichealth.org/public-awareness/understanding-vaccines/vaccines-work/