From the first days of coronavirus making its way around the world, the race has been on to find a vaccine that will put an end to global suffering. Months have passed since then and much of the world is still in various levels of lockdown. Major events such as the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed and at the time of writing over 350,000 people have lost their lives to the virus.
Numerous trials are underway in animals and humans and some are looking promising. This certainly sounds positive, but how close are we to a COVID-19 vaccine? In this article, we’ll look at the trials that are underway and discuss when experts believe they’re likely to yield results.
What is COVID-19?
It’s safe to say that we all have a broad understanding of what COVID-19 does, but what exactly is it and why is it so dangerous?
COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome known as SARS-CoV-2. This strain is closely related to the original SARS-CoV outbreak in Asia and is thought to have zoonotic origins, which means that it likely came from animals.
Since scientists first started to understand the virus’s genetic makeup they have been working to find ways of treating it. Currently, there is no cure, so the millions of people struck down with COVID-19 have only been able to seek treatment for the symptoms of the disease.
What is a Vaccine
A vaccine is defined as a treatment that stimulates the body’s immune system to fight against infections like bacteria and viruses.
How do Vaccines Work?
Our bodies are impressively intelligent and when we’re attacked by a nasty pathogen our immune system can often remember that particular threat. This allows the body to respond efficiently and effectively if the same pathogen attacks again.
Vaccines have been used successfully for a long time and actually date back to the late 18th century when an experiment proved effective against the smallpox virus. They work by tricking the body into thinking that it’s infected, which triggers the immune system to respond. So, if you are vaccinated against COVID-19 and later exposed to the virus your body would recognize it and fight it off before you get sick.
What do Vaccines Contain?
All vaccines differ in one way or another as they are created to fight a specific pathogen. However, there are some similarities. The key ingredient is the antigen. This is the material that our bodies recognize as being a threat. Sometimes this is in the form of a weakened version of the virus, or it could be a protein or strand of DNA. Vaccines also often contain an adjuvant which amplifies the body’s immune response to the antigen.
How Close are We to a Vaccine?
Although existing medicines have shown promise for the treatment of coronavirus, the aim is still to develop a vaccine. The trouble is, vaccines take time to develop. Finding the exact right combination of molecules and ensuring that they create the ideal outcome can take years, and there are multiple rounds of trials to go through to ensure treatment is safe.
To create a vaccine for COVID-19, scientists need to find an antigen that will kick-start our bodies into fighting the infection. Scientists have had some experience battling coronaviruses in this way before, from the SARS outbreak back in 2002-2003. The global scientific community is working to build on this knowledge to create an effective vaccine. Many of the most talked-about ongoing studies are called nucleic acid vaccines. These vaccines contain a small piece of genetic code as the antigen and they are actually programmable.
This type of vaccine can be created relatively quickly and labs in the UK and US are just two of the facilities working on them right now. But sadly, the likelihood is that we are still a long way off a vaccine being brought to market. Experts suggest that we could be waiting 18 months at least, and some believe that we’ll have to wait until fall or winter to get a clear idea of the timeline to a vaccine.
Until then, we can all play our part in the fight against the spread of COVID-19. It’s advisable to keep up to date on the guidelines for your state, practice good hygiene, and abide by social distancing rules. Wearing a mask can also help to slow the spread - you can buy yours here.