Coronavirus Vaccine – Are We Finally There?

The Novel Coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has taken the entire world by storm. Every scientist, researcher and company are now on its way to derive a vaccine for COVID-19. Currently, with the global death and infection rate is increasing manifolds, the Union Governments of all countries along with the United Nations have begun to realize that a coronavirus vaccine is absolutely essential in the prevention of the spread of coronavirus. As on 3rd April 2020, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of an antimalarial drug called Hydroxychloroquine for emergency use to treat COVID-19. However, hydroxychloroquine effects have not proved to be entirely beneficial.

Vaccine for COVID-19

Vaccine for COVID-19 is being developed all around the world, but significant progress has come up in Boston. The Boston-based biotech firm ‘Moderna’ has produced a vaccine which will now be used for conducting human trials imminently.

One major reason why the development of the COVID-19 Vaccine has been the contribution of China, who made sure to release the genetic material of Sars-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. The release of this sequence provided scientists all over the world with the opportunity to grow the live virus, and learn how it affects human cells.

Moderna, CureVac and Cepi are three companies which have been working for the development of a vaccine for COVID-19. However, developing a vaccine will not be a safe journey; this is due to the following reasons-

  1. When a vaccine was developed back in 1960 for the respiratory syncytial virus, it was found to aggravate breathing problems in infants. These effects were seen once again when a vaccine for SARS was prepared. While improvements were made for Sars-CoV-2, essential stringent testing conditions need to be carried out to ensure that they rule out the risk of disease.
  2. The above-mentioned reasons play an important role in taking a potential trial candidate all the way to regulatory approval, which might take more than a decade. With the US President Mr. Donald Trump demanding for a vaccine by the month of November, scientists and researchers are skeptical as to how a vaccine, which will typically take 18 months or so to be developed, will be difficult to be developed in such a short time without any hitches.
  3. Another major issue facing a COVID-19 Vaccine is the vast quantity in which it will be required; many of the organizations part of the race for developing a vaccine for COVID-19 do not have the production capacity required. Companies like Cepi are planning to invest nearly $2 billion for the same, but there is no assurance as of now.
  4. Once a vaccine is developed, issues of safety and quality might rise to prove that the vaccine will be effective in the global immunization programme.
  5. Another issue is making the vaccine affordable for all; there is a high possibility that it may fall into the hands of those who are richer. Thus, the imbalance between need and purchasing power for the vaccine needs to be reduced.
  6. WHO has, however, taken steps to bring charities, governments and vaccine makers together to agree on an equitable global distribution strategy, with companies like Gavi coming up with innovative funding mechanisms to raise money for ensuring financial supply to poorer, third-world countries.

Coronavirus Vaccine for COVID – 19

Coronaviruses have been the cause of two earlier epidemics- Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in China (2002-04) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in Saudi Arabia (2012). However, in both cases, work on the vaccines was shelved once the outbreak was contained. Marlyand-based company Novavax has once again started repurposing these vaccines for combatting COVID-19. Novavax has claimed that it has numerous candidates prepared to participate in human trials. Additionally, it has also built on the work conducted earlier by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland.

All coronavirus vaccines follow the same principle; part of all of the pathogen is exposed to the human immune system, usually in low doses. This is done to prompt the system to produce antibodies against the pathogen. The antibodies are a form of ‘immune memory’, which return once the body is exposed to the original form of the pathogen.

Another strategy used to achieve immunization has been to use live, weakened forms of the virus. However, this has certain drawbacks- the live form of the pathogen can continue to evolve in the body of the host, which may make him/her even more sick.

A newer strategy being used in the case of COVID-19 has been one of developing a ‘recombinant’ vaccine, which involves. In this case, the genetic code for the protein spike on the surface of Sars-CoV-2 is extracted and pasted on the genome of a bacterium or yeast. These microorganisms, then, churn out large quantities of the protein.

The last strategy in use currently is the one in which the protein is bypassed and genetic instructions are used to build vaccines. This is the approach used by current participants in the race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, like Moderna and CureVac. They have been building the COVID-19 Vaccine out of messenger RNA.

Hydroxychloroquine Effects on Treating of COVID – 19

Touted as a ‘game changer’ for COVID-19, the effects of Hydroxychloroquine have been expected to be beneficial for finding a cure to COVID-19. After a study published on March 17 2020, as per which 80 patients having mild COVID-19-like symptoms were treated using the antimalarial Hydroxychloroquine and showed encouraging symptoms. However, it has been criticized on the basis that the symptoms showed by these patients were only mild, and these patients would have cleared the virus without any intervention anyway.

Apart from inducing symptoms like headaches, nausea, vomiting, stomachaches and so on, Hydroxychloroquine has also managed to give people false hope. On the other hand, this rumour has led to shortage of the drug in hospitals, which has proved to be problematic for patients of malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, who need it for survival.

Two studies have been published to prove that hydroxychloroquine is not as beneficial as it has been made out to be. In the first study conducted in France, eight out of the ten patients tested after infusing the drug still showed positive for COVID-19. A similar study was carried out in China, and results were strikingly similar.

In today’s times of global crisis, there is a desperate need for a vaccine for COVID-19; while Coronavirus vaccines have made certain progress in the past, it has not proved to be enough to combat the global pandemic that is facing us today. Along with this, spreading rumours about drugs like hydroxychloroquine being useful in treating COVID-19 patients is more dangerous, as hydroxychloroquine effects have proved to be more of a bane than a boon. Thus, in this times uncertainty, one must keep well-informed and updated, and ensure that rumours are as contained as possible.

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