One question running through every mind on the planet these days is when things will go back as they were before the rise of pandemic.
The simplest solution to this may be approached in two ways – first when a powerful drug would be made to treat or mitigate Covid-19 and second when every person on earth will be vaccinated against coronavirus.
The former is a long shot.
This leaves us with only one positive solution – vaccine. But making a safe and effective vaccine is a rigorous process. And the fastest vaccine ever made took five years for distribution to general public. But the world doesn’t have five years. With 1.7 million deaths and about 80 million cases worldwide, we need a solution as soon as possible in order to save as many lives as we can.
But practically, if we want to return to normal, we need to develop a safe, effective vaccine in billions of doses and we need to get them out to every part of the world.
How soon a vaccine may be out for sale?
The former director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that it’ll take around eighteen months to develop a coronavirus vaccine.
The two most important aspects that require consideration while developing a vaccine are safety and efficacy.
- Safety is exactly what it sounds like. Is it safe for humans? Are there any side effects? You have to make sure you don’t give something worse in order to cure.
- Efficacy measures how well the vaccine protects people from getting sick. Although, ideally, a vaccine should have 100 percent efficacy but many don’t. For example, this year’s flu vaccine is around 45 percent effective.
Hence, worldwide potential vaccine candidates such as Pfizer, Bio N Tech, Oxford University and AstraZeneca are giving everything they have into making a safe and effective vaccine as quickly as possible.
How does a vaccine works?
To understand the process, it’s helpful to first understand how the human immune system works.
When a disease pathogen gets into our system, our immune system responds by producing antibodies. These antibodies attach themselves to substances called antigens on the surface of the microbe, which sends a signal to your body to attack. Your immune system keeps a record of every microbe it has ever defeated, so that it can quickly recognize and destroy invaders before they make you ill.
Vaccines circumvent this whole process by teaching your body how to defeat a pathogen without ever getting sick. The two most common types are inactivated and live vaccines. Inactivated vaccines contain pathogens that have been killed. Live vaccines, on the other hand, are made of living pathogens that have been weakened. They’re highly effective but more prone to side effects than their inactivated counterparts.
There are a number of COVID-19 vaccine candidates of both types but the only downside is that they’re time-consuming.
That’s why two new approaches that some of the candidates are taking are RNA and DNA vaccines.
Their working is quiet simple and precise. Rather than injecting a pathogen’s antigen into our body, they instead give the body the genetic code needed to produce that antigen itself. When the antigens appear on the outside of cells, our immune system attacks them—and learns how to defeat future intruders in the process. You essentially turn your body into its own vaccine manufacturing unit.
But we don’t know for sure yet if RNA is a viable platform for vaccines. Since Covid would be the first RNA vaccine out of the gate, we have to prove both that the platform itself works and that it creates immunity.
It might not be perfect but we need it.
The smallpox vaccine was far from perfect, but it got the job done. The Covid-19 vaccine might be similar.
In order to stop the pandemic, we need to make the vaccine available to almost every person on the planet. We’ve never delivered something to every corner of the world before. And, as I mentioned earlier, vaccines are particularly difficult to make and store.
Who gets first?
Most people agree that health workers should get the vaccine first. But who gets it next? Older people? Teachers? Workers in essential jobs?
Many believe that low-income countries should be some of the first to receive it, because people will be at a much higher risk of dying in those places. Covid-19 will spread much quicker in poor countries because measures like physical distancing are harder to enact.
It might be a bit hard to see right now, but there is a light at the end of this tunnel. We’re doing all the necessary as we can and at the right pace to get a vaccine. Meanwhile, it’s also mandatory to continue following the guidelines set by authorities. Our ability to get through this outbreak will depend on everyone doing their part to keep each other safe.