By Pashko CAMAJ/
As we move into the warmer spring days of the northern hemisphere, the battle against Covid-19 continues to be main storyline across the globe. Day after day, as we listen, watch, or read these stories, we hope. In ongoing battles against viral infections, as in the case of Covid-19 pandemic, we look for ways to stay healthy, become immune, and defeat this invisible enemy. Immunity to microbial infections occurs in two ways: through natural infection or through vaccination. Naturally, immunity to these microbes can occur when many people become infected, survive, and become immune to the virus. This in epidemiology is known as “herd” immunity and occurs when 60-80% of the population is infected with the virus, which would mean about 200-280 million people, in the United States alone. As for information, with a “mortality rate” for Covid-19 of about 1%, that would mean more than two million deaths in the United States alone. Can we, as a nation, or any country in the world, hope to defeat Covid-19 through “herd” immunity and through widespread infection? The response is of course, a resounding NO, we cannot rely on “herd” immunity as the principal mechanism of cure for the ‘plague’ of the 21st century. So, we have only one viable option, to find the vaccine and produce it as soon as possible!
Progress in the vaccine research:
As of last week, over 80 candidates for the Covid-19 vaccine are being studied around the world, most of whom are still in the early stages of testing. The good news is that six of them have reached clinical trials and they are being tested in humans. Several vaccines for candidates undergoing clinical testing include two in the United States, one in Britain, one in the EU and four in China. These tests are in relatively early stages (tested on a small number of people) and none have yet reached the third stage, in which the vaccine is tested on many people. This stage of testing will tell us if the vaccine works, and what is most important, whether it is safe to use in humans, without adverse effects on our health. In the US, there is evidence of vaccines being developed at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and Maryland University, Rochester University School of Medicine and Cincinnati Central Hospital. In addition, tests are being conducted by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and a German biotech company, BioNTech, with 200 participating patients. These studies are generating optimism that a safe and an effective vaccine against Covid-19 may be in use by the end of the year. If these tests prove successful, Pfizer plans to use its three countries, in the US, to mass-produce the vaccine, to produce millions of doses of vaccines in 2020, and hundreds of millions more in 2021.
How the vaccine works:
The vaccine has a simple function: it gives our body instructions on how to make proteins that will trigger reactions to microbes after being exposed to them. It works by ‘training’ our immune system to recognize and fight viruses or bacteria. To do this, small molecules of viruses must be injected into our body to trigger body’s immune response. These tiny protein molecules are called antigens, and they are present in all viruses and bacteria. Injecting these antigens into the body, our immune system learns to recognize them as ‘invading enemies,’ produce antibodies against them, and create a ‘memory’ for the future. If we are expose to these germs again, our immune system will recognize them as enemies, immediately and aggressively attack them before they spread to our body and cause diseases. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which oversees the production of vaccines and their overall safety, will have the final say on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. They are currently reviewing the scientific process, as well as ethical questions that may need to be addressed during the rapid development of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Light at the end of the long tunnel:
While progress in the vaccine development is promising across the globe, importantly, scientific activities that seek to cure infected patients are also promising. Research on antibodies that can be used as prophylactic treatment for people who have been exposed to Covid-19 is showing promising results. The use of antibodies may prove to be effective and fast in the fight against the corona virus, until the vaccine is produced. Thus, we continue to wait, watch, listen and hope!