Written by Sundas Amer
Soon after the coronavirus spread across the globe, health professionals began working on a vaccine that would help build immunity to the virus. The U.S. government initiated Operation Warp Speed, which aims to deliver 300 million doses of safe, effective coronavirus vaccine by January 2021.
The vaccine testing process is divided into five stages: preclinical testing, phase I safety trials, phase II expanded trials, phase III efficacy trials, and the final approval. In preclinical testing, the vaccine is administered to animals such as mice or monkeys to see if it stimulates an immune response. Phase I, II and III trials expand testing to a few people, then hundreds, then thousands, respectively. The results of all these trials are evaluated by regulators who ultimately provide a final approval.
Currently, there are six vaccines in phase III trials run by the following companies: Moderna in the U.S.; Pfizer in the U.S. and Germany; University of Oxford in Brazil, South Africa, and the U.K.; Chinese companies Sinopharm in the United Arab Emirates and Sinovac in Brazil; and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia. The Chinese military has also granted year-long approval for limited use of a vaccine developed by CanSino Biologics.
In phase III trials, healthy adult volunteers are administered the coronavirus vaccine or a placebo and instructed to live their lives as usual. They are monitored to evaluate side effects and tested for infection frequently. The difference between the two groups in fighting off infection indicates the efficacy of the vaccine.
Not all vaccines are 100 percent effective at fighting the disease, and the WHO says the coronavirus vaccine should prove to be at least 50 percent effective before it is disseminated. Since it takes time to perfect vaccines, researchers caution that the initial vaccines developed will be lower in quality than future iterations.
Health researchers warn that coronavirus vaccine implementation will not deliver the immediate results people are wishing for. First, the vaccine has to be delivered to millions of people across the globe or at least across the country—a logistical feat of great proportions. Second, the vaccine does not provide automatic immunity. It takes a few weeks for the vaccine to rouse up the immune system and help develop antibodies. Researchers speculate that one vaccine shot may not be enough and might need to be followed up with an additional shot.
Additionally, the vaccine may be more like the flu vaccine in efficacy, which means that it will temper symptoms but not eradicate them entirely. The vaccine developed may also provide short-term immunity which will require people to continue social distancing and mask use. Furthermore, many across the U.S. have displayed a skeptical attitude towards coronavirus vaccinations and public health information campaigns may be required to encourage people to get vaccinated.
Regardless, it is heartening to see that countries across the world are striving to create a safe, effective vaccine on an accelerated timeline. A coronavirus vaccine will require cooperation among various sectors to succeed and will be crucial in restoring the world to normal operations.