Strides Made in the COVID-19 Vaccine Research and Development.

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The year 2020 will go down in history books as the year in which a new deadly coronavirus brought the world to a standstill. After the WHO declared that a previously undescribed human coronavirus (SARS-Cov-2) had spread globally, thus qualifying as a pandemic, the world was thrown into a state of shock and panic. 

Since then, Pharmaceutical companies have been at the forefront in fighting the coronavirus by making major investments in vaccine research and development. WHO has been working together with businesses, scientists, and global health organizations through the ACT accelerator to speed up the pandemic response. By December 2020, at least four vaccines from different countries across the world have received authorization as safe and effective against the coronavirus.

So, what are some of the most effective vaccines and who made them? Do they have side effects? In this article, we look at the strides the world has made in the COVID-19 vaccine research and development.

How Do Vaccines Work?

For a vaccine to be declared effective, it needs to generate an immune response. The side effects associated with vaccines are usually the byproducts of the body mounting an immune response. 

While sometimes, a patient could succumb to the side effects of the vaccine, especially the frail and elderly people, it should not be a cause for alarm. It actually means that the vaccines are invoking an immune response in infected patients – which is the whole purpose of a vaccine.

Many people will however be able to tolerate the side effects leading to the development of immune memory. This memory can protect you from the more severe COVID-19 strain.

Highlights of the COVID-19 Vaccine Research and Development (March- December 2020)

Even before March 11, 2020, when the WHO declared the emergence of a pandemic, scientists had already started looking for a vaccine and therapeutic targets. Researchers from the United States and Germany had already published papers discussing potential ways to prevent infections with SARS-coV-2. Their research suggested that the SARS-CoV antibodies could help block the virus’s entry into healthy cells, therefore potentially reduce the infections.

After the SARS-CoV-2 was declared a global pandemic, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology companies, businesses, and health organizations took a more aggressive and serious approach in vaccine research and development.

  1. The Moderna Vaccine
  • The company says it’s 94.5% effective
  • It is given in two doses, four weeks apart
  • Over 30,000 people have been involved in the trials
  • Uses the same approach as the Pfizer vaccine, but easier to store because it remains stable up to 6 months at -20 degrees celsius

By mid-march, researchers from the Moderna biotechnology company and the National Institute of Health (NIH) had also started enrolling volunteers for trial in what has now come to be known as “the Moderna vaccine”.

This vaccine uses somewhat new technology to introduce genetic codes into the human cells, which trains the immune system to recognize and react to the SARS-CoV-2. Scientists refer to this kind of vaccine as an mRNA vaccine.

By March, however, the trials conducted by the NIH and Moderna were for safety purposes. They were trying to make sure that their vaccine volunteers did not suffer adverse effects on their health.

2. AstraZeneca vaccine – The Oxford Vaccine

  • It is given in two doses
  • Easiest vaccine to distribute because it does not require storage in cold temperatures.
  • Strong immune response in older people
  • 70% effective in preventing COVID symptoms

In April 2020, Researchers from the biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca partnered with those from the University of Oxford to start human trials for their vaccine known as the “AstraZeneca or the Oxford vaccine”

The researchers used a weakened chimpanzee adenovirus (a common cold virus modified to not live in humans ) to stimulate the body’s immune system as well as deliver the genetic information to prompt our cells to produce the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. This protein makes our bodies susceptible to infections from the new coronavirus.

By delivering the protein in disease-free viral particles, the researchers wanted to safely prompt the immune system to react to SARS-CoV-2 should it come into contact with this virus.

The official rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine began on 5th January. It was approved late in 2020 after trials showed that it was 70% effective. The data also revealed that this vaccine shows a strong immune response in the elderly. More intriguingly, there is even data suggesting that if you perfect the dose, it could increase your chances up to 90%.

3. Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine

  • The vaccine can have up to 95% efficacy
  • Best if given in two doses, three weeks apart
  • The vaccine must be stored at a temperature of around -70 degrees Celsius
  • Mild and short-term side effects

In the same month of April 2020, the biotechnology company BioNTech and the pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer started safety trials in humans for their mRNA vaccine. In just four months, the researchers were able to move from pre-clinical studies to human testing.

By August, the Pfizer and BioNtech team had published data from the phase 1 and 2 trials of their mRNA vaccine. Their results confirmed that their vaccine was safe and any side effects were mild and short term. The team was also able to confirm that there was an increase in antibodies after inoculation. This suggested that the Pfizer vaccine could be effective in fighting SARS-CoV-2.

4. Sputnik V vaccine

In September, the Russians published the results of their own phase 1 and 2 trials. The trials were aimed at testing the safety and the immune response the Sputnik V vaccine could induce in a human body.

Sputnik V also utilizes the adenovirus as a means to deliver the genetic information that causes our cells to produce the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. It then uses another adenovirus with the spike protein to deliver a second dose. According to their trial data, their vaccine had a 92% efficacy, was safe and potentially effective at curbing the pandemic. 

After the compelling data published by the vaccine developers, the Russian government approved its use, even though they had not yet conducted phase 3 trials by then.

However, the premature approval and the fact their studies were non-randomized and open-labeled prompted doubt about the viability of the vaccine among the global scientific community. These two qualities are the key requirements in obtaining strong and credible results in any research.

What still needs to be done?

As the search for more viable vaccines continues, medical specialists in public healthcare are still researching the best ways to maximize the positive impact of the available vaccines.

More businesses should also help in fighting the pandemic by investing in the huge-scale development of vaccines for the billions of potential doses. Also, researchers still need to find out how long any sort of protection would last.



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