Written by Rashika Ghiraiya, grade 10 student
When a disease is new, there is no vaccine until one is developed. It can take a number of months to a number of years for a new vaccine to be developed. Right now there is a lot of effort being put into developing a vaccine for the current epidemic which has taken everything by a toll. The work on the new vaccine is using newer , and less tested approaches, called ‘plug and play’ vaccines.
How do you create a vaccine?
Vaccines harmlessly show viruses or bacteria (or even small parts of them) to the immune system. The body’s defences recognise them as an invader and learn how to fight them. Then if the body is ever exposed for real, it already knows how to fight the infection.
The main method of vaccination for decades has been to use the original virus.
Researchers have been working with different approaches for finding a vaccination. Some of these might include the following:
- Whole virus vaccine-Whole virus vaccines use weakened or dead forms of the virus that causes the disease. Johnson & Johnson, Codagenix, and researchers at the University of Hong Kong are working on this kind of vaccine.
- Recombinant protein subunit vaccine– Researchers are investigating whether or not they can make a recombinant protein subunit vaccine that targets a protein called spike (S-) protein. The new coronavirus uses the S-protein to attach to and infect cells.
Novavax, Clover Biopharmaceuticals, the University of Queensland, and a consortium led by Texas Children’s Hospital for Vaccine Development are using this approach to develop a coronavirus vaccine.
- Antibody vaccine– SARS has many similarities to COVID-19, as they are caused by related coronaviruses. So far, scientists have shown that the antibodies that neutralize the SARS-causing virus can also limit how well the new coronavirus infects cells in laboratory studies.
- Nucleic acid vaccine– Nucleic acid vaccines inject genetic material, such as DNA or RNA, into a live host. The cells that contain the new nucleic acid then make the proteins that were encoded in the DNA or RNA, which they present to the immune system.However, researchers say that three companies are looking to develop a coronavirus vaccine using this approach: Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Moderna Therapeutics, and Cure vac.
Which vaccines have made it to the preclinical stage?
The preclinical stage is the research that is carried out in the labs and on animals while clinical development is when it is tested on humans.
Novavax, a biotech company based in Maryland USA, has also shown encouraging signs in preclinical trials and expects to initiate the first phase of human trials by mid-May in Australia. Johnson and Johnson also said it would start human trials by September.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 42 vaccines are in pre-clinical stage while only two have entered Phase 1.The two vaccines which are in Phase 1 are from CanSino Biological Inc. and Beijing Institute of Biotechnology; and Moderna/ (NIAID) in the US. From Zydus Cadila to Moderna, from Sanofi Pasteur to Sinovac — and several prestigious universities like Imperial College London and University of Oxford in between — the efforts are on to develop a vaccine, but all are currently in just preclinical stages.
What is bill gates doing to help in the epidemic?
Bill Gates is doing his part in coming up with a vaccine for treating the covid-19 patients. He has funded construction of factories for development of seven corona virus vaccination candidates. Gates also said that they will be choosing at the most two vaccines out of the lot agreeing on ‘wasting’ billions just to ensure that they don’t have to wait for the vaccine to work and then establish a factory. He said that when the economy is losing trillions of dollars it’s worth it to lose billions.
The billionaire philanthropist said that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s plan was essential to build the manufacturing capacity required and ensure a proven vaccine is developed and in production within 18 months. They have already pledged a $100 million towards fighting the corona virus and the Gates Foundation has also shipped at-home coronavirus test kits to people in Washington State.
COVID-19 is currently a major health challenge as doctors and researchers work to develop effective preventive measures, such as vaccines. Until a vaccine becomes available, people can protect themselves and others by following guidance from public health and medical experts.
But it is still an open question as to whether a treatment or a vaccine will be found within a matter of months or if it will take years. Until then, says Donnelly, all that can be done is to continue to monitor the virus and try to stop it spreading.
Written by Rashika Ghiraiya
Rashika is from Bangalore and is 14 years old