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Yes, vaccinologists are working hard at developing a vaccine to treat COVID-19. We can all take a deep breath of relief that, in these uncertain times, there is at least the guarantee that work is being done.
Will they succeed, however? Scientists are amazing beings who have accomplished tremendous feats in the past. It is very likely that they could succeed this time, but various stumbling blocks do stand in the way.
Here is a look at some of the pluses and minuses the research world is contending with while working on the much-anticipated vaccine.
A Good Start
Some feel that China did not handle the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan with the speed and honesty they may have wished, but the country has done some things right.
Early on in the crisis, China sequenced the genetic material of Sars-CoV-2, which is the virus that is causing COVID-19, and shared it with the world. This was very beneficial, as it has allowed researchers around the globe to grow the live virus themselves, and study how it operates.
In addition to China's foresight, there is work that has been done in attempts to create coronavirus vaccines in the past, that scientists are now building on. The SARS and MERS outbreaks that originated in China in 2002, and Saudi Arabia in 2012, compelled scientists to attempt to create vaccines to treat these illnesses.
Fortunately, the outbreaks were contained, without a vaccine. Unfortunately, in the time since the outbreaks, no one has been successful in creating vaccines for either illness. This matters, as SARS and MERS are also coronaviruses that are zootonic, and jumped to humans from animals, just like COVID-19.
In fact, Sars -CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, is said to share between 80% to 90% of its genetic material with the virus that caused the SARS outbreak in 2002. The work that vaccinologists did on the SARS and MERS vaccines, is still available and is being built upon, which is good.
There are a few hurdles to pass before we get to a COVID-19 vaccine. They are not impassable, but they do exist.
First of all, there is the way vaccines are made. They are often created using live, weakened forms of the virus. This can work, but it can also actually make the recipient sick, if the virus springs back to life once injected into your body, so to speak.
Other vaccines are made with a virus that has been inactivated with chemicals or intense heat. When this is done, however, you need to give patients higher or repeat doses of the vaccine in order for it to work, which is not always convenient.
When it comes to the development of a vaccine to treat COVID-19, both of these traditional routes are being tried. A new path is also being taken, which involves making a vaccine out of something called messenger RNA.
This happens by extracting a genetic code from part of the virus, or the whole virus. It is important to note that no vaccines made from genetic code have been approved for use, to date, anywhere.
Clinical trials are a must when developing any new type of medicine. With vaccines, they can involve several steps. First, small groups are tried, and then several hundred people try the vaccine. Following this, several hundred thousand try it out.
Is this important? Yes. A vaccine developed to treat SARS was initially shown to actually make symptoms worse in patients, and this problem was later fixed, but it shows that the proper steps and protocols must be followed when developing a vaccine, or scientists can risk hurting people, rather than helping them.
Developing a vaccine and getting it approved actually usually takes ten years or more to do, according to The Guardian.com. We do not seem to have that amount of time in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Having a vaccine ready in just 18 months, which many media outlets have quoted, may seem long to the general public, but it is actually an incredibly short amount of time for scientists to succeed in.
Companies presently trying to create a vaccine for COVID-19 include Moderna, CureVac, and Novavax, among others.
About thirty-five companies and academic institutions are now said to be working on the challenge. Runners, take your mark. May the best ideas win.
About the Author
A prior educator with a background in the arts, Victoria Simpson has a passion for communicating her ideas through writing. You can find her picture book, Eating I Forget, on Amazon. Her articles and webcopy have been published on countless websites including RateMDs.com, Autoguide, eBay, Digital Home and Iremia Skincare, among others. She is now excited to be contributing to World Atlas.
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