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The world is still grappling with the effects of the horrible Covid-19 pandemic and researchers around the world are racing to develop a vaccine against the deadly virus, with the World Health Organization (WHO) tracking more than 170 candidate vaccines. Vaccines mimic the virus, or part of the virus, they protect against, stimulating the immune system to develop antibodies. Usually, vaccines take years of testing and time to produce in massive amounts, but researchers are hopeful that it will take them between 12 to 18 months.

The Importance of a Covid-19 Vaccine

Even as lockdowns are being lifted in different countries around the world, Covid-19 still poses a significant threat to the population. And since the virus spreads quite easily – through the air we breathe and contaminated surfaces – a vaccine would enable the return of normalcy.

While researchers can’t say the exact time when we expect the virus to end, we must prepare to live with it through vaccination and proper hygiene practices. Scientists are predicting the possibility of the availability of vaccines halfway in the year 2021.

How Close Are We to Getting the Coronavirus Vaccine?

Several companies are working on antiviral drugs, some of which are already being used to treat other illnesses, to treat people already infected with Covid-19. As early as May 8, two medications had been approved as Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – the antiviral remdesivir and a drug used to sedate people on a ventilator. Most drugs are still being tested in clinical trials to check if they are effective against Covid-19, and if they have side effects. Currently, more than 200 vaccines are in early development, with 40 in clinical trials and nine already in the final stage of testing.

  • A group of participants in China showed a (vaccine was safe and triggered the body to develop antibodies). The vaccine is currently being made available to the Chinese military.
  • Trial of a new vaccine has started in the UK. The vaccines, developed by US biotechnology company Novavax, seem to train the immune system to develop high levels of virus-fighting antibodies, which could potentially fight Covid-19.
  • Trials of the Oxford vaccine show it can trigger an immune response. A deal has been signed with AstraZeneca to supply 100 million doses in the UK alone.
  • The first human trial conducted in May showed that the first eight patients taking part in a US study all developed antibodies that could neutralize the virus.

These are just examples of the dozens of human trials currently underway. It shows how far pharma giants have gone in search of the Covid-19 vaccine.

The Production Race

Typically, when a vaccine is created, it passes through various stages before it can be used. That’s why it takes time before it can be released to the general public. These stages are:

• Phase 1: Testing in small groups to check for safety • Phase 2: Testing in larger groups to check for effectiveness • Phase 3: Large-scale efficacy and safety trials • Authorized: Allowed under emergency use authorization (EUA) or other limited use authorizations

Some of the vaccines already in phase 3 include:

  • Johnson & Johnson is working on an unnamed adenovirus-based vaccine and on September 20, launched a 60,000-person late-stage study to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine. Preliminary results show that one dose was safe and stimulated a strong immune response. According to J & J, the vaccine may be ready for emergency use at the outset of 2021.
  • Two China state-owned vaccine makers, one in Beijing and another in Wuhan have developed two shots from killed versions of the virus. Hundreds of thousands of people have already received China National Biotec’s shots under an emergency use authorization. Tests are now being carried out in countries across South American and the Middle East, and shots are expected to be available in China as soon as towards the end of 2020.
  • CanSino Biologics Inc., working with the People’s Liberation Army, has received regulatory approval to start final stage trials in Russia. The company is planning to undertake a trial in Pakistan of 40,000 people. The shot has already been authorized to be used by China’s military.

Apart from vaccines and antiviral drugs, indirect therapies are also being used to help mitigate the disease’s effects on Covid-19 patients, such as difficulty breathing or severe inflammatory responses. Some of these therapies include:

  • Dexamethasone, a 60-year old medicine made by Mylan NV, Hikma Pharmaceuticals and others helps to reduce deaths among patients ) who need breathing assistance.
  • Various studies are underway to investigate further the efficacy of mavrilimumab. Earlier results showed that the drug resolved fevers in patients with the virus, and they did not require mechanical ventilation.
  • Heparin and Eliquis are blood thinners that could stop some of the potentially fatal effects of blood clots in COVID patients like heart attacks and strokes. The NIH announced that trials are underway to test the effectiveness of the blood thinners in hospitalized patients.

In Conclusion…

As you can see, there is a lot of progress towards the race to get a Covid-19 vaccine. It’s only a matter of time before we have not one but several working vaccines to help combat the devastating effects of coronavirus.

All images by Shutterstock

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