On September 1, 2020
How dangerous is COVID 19?
Coronavirus is an infectious disease that is transmitted via droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or exhales. Corona Virus affects different people differently. Some may have mild symptoms whereas, others might end up being seriously ill. Mild symptoms may include fever, cough, fatigue, loss of taste, and smell. However, older individuals with underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease are more likely to end up with severe illness. Additionally, according to the CDC, people aged 85years and above are at a higher risk of developing severe illness due to coronavirus than younger individuals. Till date, there is no treatment or cure for coronavirus. Treatment options are under investigation and several clinical trials to develop a vaccine are going all around the globe.
What is a vaccine?
Immunization is an essential part of primary health care. According to WHO, there are more than 20 vaccines developed to prevent life-threatening diseases. Vaccines help to provide immunity against one or several diseases. They act by stimulating the production of antibodies against the disease. Vaccines are designed to prevent a disease rather than treating it. Typically, a vaccine contains an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism and is often made up of weakened or killed forms of the microbe, its toxins, or one of its surface proteins.
Generally, vaccines require several years of research, testing, and extra time to produce at scale. However, researchers are hoping to develop a vaccine for coronavirus within few months. Already, more than 170 candidate vaccines for coronavirus are being tracked by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Before any vaccine can be used widely, it must go through stringent testing to confirm its effectiveness against certain bacteria or viruses, plus, it must not cause other health issues. It is important to understand that vaccines must follow higher safety standards than other drugs since they are administered to millions of healthy people.
How are vaccines tested?
Preclinical stage: In this stage, the vaccine is administered to animals to see if it produces an immune response.
Phase 1: At this stage of vaccine testing, researchers give the vaccine to a small group of people to understand if it is safe and to observe the immune response it provokes.
Phase 2: Vaccine is administered to hundreds of people to learn about its correct dosage, efficacy, and safety.
Phase 3: This phase tends to involve trials including the control group which is given a placebo. At this stage, the vaccine is given to thousands of people with the purpose to confirm its safety, side effects, and efficacy.
Is there a vaccine for coronavirus?
While COVID 19 seems to surge across the globe, the race for developing a vaccine for coronavirus still continues. Although several trials are going on all around the world, an effective and safe vaccine is yet to be developed.
Covaxin is India’s first indigenous vaccine by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)-National Institute of Virology (NIV). The vaccine received DCGI approval for Phase 1 and 2 human clinical trials.
The University of Oxford vaccine is delivered through a chimpanzee virus called vaccine vector. The vector contains a genetic code of the protein spikes found on the coronavirus that triggers a strong immune response in the human body. The vaccine is in phase 3 trials in South Africa and Brazil, on the other hand, it is in combined 2 /3 phase trials in the UK.
American biotech company Moderna is working on developing an mRNA vaccine.
Sinovac, a Chinese company is developing a vaccine based on inactivated COVID 19 particles.
Sputnik V developed by Gamaleya Research Institute, Russia, says they have combined Phase 1 and 2 testing and confirmed its immunogenicity and safety, but they are yet to compare it to placebo. They hope to manufacture 3-5 million doses annually.
Fact check: vaccines for other coronavirus infections such as SARS and MERS have been studied for decades but there are no vaccines available.
With vaccines on the horizon, we have other challenges to face. Such as “will the vaccine be safe?” “where can one get himself/herself vaccinated?” “Cost of the vaccine” “who fits into the criteria to be vaccinated ?”
The WHO’s “strategic allocation is targeted at health workers, people over the age of 65 years, and those with comorbidities that put them at a higher mortality risk due to COVID infection. Where do we stand? PM Narendra Modi stated in his Independence Day speech: “to make it available to every person in the shortest possible time.”
It is crucial for us to realize that the current strategy is to develop an effective and safe vaccine, enabling mass production and availability.
Meanwhile, how can you reduce your risk of getting infected with coronavirus?
- The best way to protect yourself is to wear a mask when going out. Make sure your mouth and nose are properly covered.
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.
- Use hand sanitizer when you are outdoors.
- Avoid touching your face and eyes.
- Try to limit your interactions as much as possible.
- Avoid close contact for example: don’t shake hands or hug. Instead, greet verbally or/and wave.
- Clean your house and your area of work regularly with a disinfectant.
Stay healthy and safe.
Written by: Fatima Khan, Cardiovascular Technologist.