Coronavirus headlines began appearing all over the world in 2020. This is a new virus and the main reason for such hype is its unexpected speed of transmission. Coronavirus was first found in Wuhan, China at the end of December 2019 and has already traveled to the United States, Philippines, and Italy. The official name for this virus is COVID-19. According to a recent study, more than thousands of people have been infected and more than 3,000 people have already died.
Currently, several groups are already working on a vaccine for this disease but there is no guarantee that it will be ready before the end of the current outbreak. Some groups claim that they will have an experimental vaccine, ready for testing, already in a month. However, experts say that the expedited timeline does not always allow for careful evaluation of the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines.
Scientists have dramatically decreased the time needed to develop a vaccine for a new virus over the past 17 years. This is mainly due to all technological advances and greater commitment by the government and nonprofit organizations to funding the research on emerging infectious diseases. As was mentioned above, scientists are already working toward the development of the vaccine for COVID-19. However, it should be also said that the vaccine might not come in time to help the outbreak.
Speeding up the vaccine development
Chinese scientists shared the COVID-19 genetic sequence in an online public database on January 10th. Since that time a number of groups have been working on the development of a vaccine for coronavirus.
A coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) funds three of these groups. CEPI is a nonprofit organization that was formed in 2017 for the purpose of funding vaccine development for emerging infectious diseases. In addition to that, Moderna Inc. and Inovio Pharmaceuticals claim that they will have a vaccine ready for testing in animals already in one month.
It is also worth mentioning that the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which works with Moderna Inc., estimates to have a vaccine ready for a phase one clinical trial in people in three months. Both of the aforementioned companies are making use of a newer vaccine technology, which is based on specific DNA or so-called messenger RNA sequences of the virus. However, protective immune response in a person can be caused by this type of vaccine. Due to the fact that protein is only a small portion of the virus, it is not going to cause illness.
Experts who work using this method are able to start creating a vaccine as soon as they have a virus genetic sequence. On the other side, scientists that make use of other methods need to work with actual virus samples in the laboratory. A great thing about the aforementioned technology is that it skips a lot of traditional steps in vaccine discovery and development, meaning that it is relatively fast.
The third group working on the discovery of the vaccine is located in Queensland, Australia. They aim to have a vaccine ready for testing in people in 16 weeks, which is 4 months. The development process involves growing viral proteins in cell cultures. Although, a number of professors of microbiology and immunology claim that these rapid timelines might be feasible but could also be too fast for a thorough evaluation of the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine.
It is also worth mentioning that once the vaccine is ready, it still needs to go through animal testing and large clinical trials in people. These stages are extremely essential for the purpose of making sure that the vaccine works and is safe. Experts also say that it is possible to speed up the animal and clinical trials only. And all these phases still take some time. Thus, it is a big question of whether the vaccine will be available in time for this epidemic. There are a few things that can speed up the process of testing such as running the clinical trials in parallel but it will still take between several weeks to months.
Vaccination at a higher risk
If we look back at the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, it took approximately 20 months for vaccine development and bringing it for testing in people. By that time, a number of public health measures had been taken including isolating infected people, setting up quarantines and identifying people who have been in contact with infected people. The aforementioned steps were taken in the current outbreak. Whether this is going to be the case for coronavirus depends on a number of factors, including how quickly the virus spreads and the severity of the illness it causes.
It is highly important to address the potential for vaccine development. When the vaccine works, they are excellent and is the best way to prevent disease. Experts say that even if a vaccine makes it through all the stages of testing, it might be the case that drugmakers will not be able to produce enough vaccine in order to protect everyone who might be exposed to this type of virus. The largest manufacturing capacity out of three CEPI-funded groups has Moderna Inc. and it estimates that it can produce around 100 million doses in one year. It, in turn, means that health officials will have to prioritize who will get the vaccine first. This decision will be probably based on the severity of symptoms and on people who are most likely possible to spread the virus.
WHO, which is a World Health Organization, reports that only 20 percent of people who were infected with COVID-19 developed a serious illness. Apart from that, the vast majority of people who died from this infection were older and also had underlying health conditions. These could be people who would need a vaccine in the first place. Healthcare workers who are on the front line might be another group that will need a vaccine first. This is mainly due to the fact that they work in close contact with so many patients that have a chronic disease.
You need to keep it clear for yourself, coronavirus is still a new virus and new things are being learned about it on an everyday basis. Doctors say that coronavirus might not cause initial symptoms in the beginning and can be carried for up to two weeks. However, specialists still determine possible symptoms of COVID-19 and they are as follows:
● Short of breath
● Cough that continues for several days and gets worse over time (in some cases, cough can lead to back pain)
● Fever that increases gradually
Keep in mind that this is a new virus and the complete list of symptoms is still to be investigated. However, if you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms or if you have been in contact with someone who was diagnosed with this virus or if you traveled to China in the last 14 days, you should consult your primary care physician immediately. You can also make use of several prevention methods such as washing your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds at a time, disinfecting the objects that you use and eliminate touching your face with dirty hands.
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