COVID-19 Vaccine Update
While the world has stayed home to try and do their part to control the spread of COVID-19, many researchers around the world have been working hard to develop a vaccine.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19. In addition, there are also no medicines that have been developed to prevent or treat COVID-19. Experts believe there may be a vaccine by 2021.
At this point, doctors are only able to treat the symptoms that the virus presents, rather than the virus itself. However, there are medicines that are proving to be effective.
Remdisivir is an anti-viral medication that was permitted for emergency use by the FDA because it showed promising results for shortening the duration of COVID-19.
Dexamethasone, a commonly used corticosteroid (a drug that reduces inflammation in the body) has shown that it can reduce the likelihood of death by about one-third in patients with severe respiratory issues.
As COVID-19 is a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics like a bacterial infection. Although in some cases antibiotics will be administered if there is also a bacterial infection present.
The Need for a Vaccine
Dr Peter Hotez, leading vaccination scientist, told the United Nations Foundation because COVID-19 is so transmissible it requires a vaccination.
Dr. Hotez revealed that he had previously worked to develop a vaccine for SARS but it was shelved when funding was not available for clinical trials.
COVID-19 is similar to SARS in that they are both a type of coronavirus, but COVID-19 develops more in the upper respiratory system which makes it more transmissible. The virus can be spread when people cough, sneeze or even speak. It can also spread before any symptoms are present, making it even harder to control the spread.
COVID-19 can also become serious very quickly. This is because the virus can attach to a receptor in the body known as an ACE2 receptor. This receptor can be found in the heart, lungs and nervous system. The results are quite dangerous and can include heart disease, neurologic dysfunction, pneumonia and clotting disorders.
With the combination of an easily spread virus and severe outcomes, discovering a vaccine for COVID-19 is more important than ever. However, developing a vaccine is not something that can be done overnight.
How will the COVID-19 Vaccine Work?
Dr. Hotez explained that developing a vaccine to COVID-19 is not overly complicated. The virus itself consists of a rounded center filled with nucleus acid with spikes sticking out. At the end of each ‘spike’ is a rounded end with ‘spike protein’. The spike protein is the part of the virus that binds to the ACE2 receptor in the body. This binding process allows the virus to gain entry into the heart, lungs, vascular or other tissues in the body.
In order to combat this, scientists need to make an immune response in the body that will not allow this binding to occur.
So scientists know what they need to do in order to make a working vaccine, they just don’t know how to do it yet in a way that is safe and efficient.
Related: COVID-19: Everything a parent needs to know
How Long Does it Take to Develop a Vaccine?
Traditionally, developing vaccines takes years, not months. In fact, a report in Nature revealed that 90% of vaccines that start clinical trials never make it to the end.
One of the reasons that vaccines take so long to be developed, according to Dr. Hotez, is that they must first be tested on animals and then move into human trials. He said many vaccines do not make it through the trial stage because they are either unable to produce a proper immune response or are deemed unsafe.
In order to develop a working vaccine as soon as possible, scientists from around the world are all working to develop many different options. The hope is that a few will survive the trial phase and be found to be effective in preventing or treating COVID-19.
The Race to Develop a Vaccine
The race to develop a vaccine has created unprecedented private/public partnerships. Operation Warp Speed (OWS) is a collaboration between several US government departments. These include Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Energy and Veterans Affairs as well as the private sector. Within OWS, the US National Institute of Health (NIH) has partnered with more than 18 biopharmaceutical companies to accelerate the vaccine and drug development process for COVID-19.
Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) was announced in April 2020 by NIH as a private/public strategy to work together to prioritize and accelerate research and development into vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.
The aim of ACTIV is to streamline and coordinate the efforts of many researchers. The group is working on four major areas of focus:
- Develop a streamlined forum to identify preclinical treatments.
- Accelerate clinical testing of the most promising treatments.
- Improve clinical trial capacity and effectiveness
- Accelerate the evolution of vaccine candidates.
Johnson and Johnson announced in June that it plans to begin the second half of its human trials mid July. This timeline is two months earlier than planned.
The company’s drug trial will test the drug against a placebo as well as look at the effectiveness and safety of the drug in 1,045 healthy people aged 18-55. The trial will also look at the safety and effectiveness of the drug in people over 65. The trials are expected to take place in the U.S. and Belgium.
Johnson and Johnson has already signed a deal with the U.S. government which would provide enough manufacturing capacity to provide 1 billion doses of its vaccine through 2021.
Another front runner in the race to develop a vaccine is U.S. biotech Moderna Inc. They have already started a 600 person mid-trial and are expected to begin their late-stage trials at the end of July.
Vaccine Development Around the World
While the U.S. has shown promise by working collaboratively among several hopeful vaccine candidates. It is not only the United States that is working hard on finding a vaccine.
China National Biotech Group announced June 16th that its experimental Coronavirus vaccine had triggered antibodies in clinical trials. The group plans to move to late-stage human trials in foreign countries.
The experimental vaccine was developed by Wuhan-based research institute affiliated with Sinpharm. The vaccine has so far been able to produce high levels of antibodies in its trial participants without any adverse side effects. The trial included 1,120 healthy participants. Further trials are planned to be conducted overseas.
In Britain, AstraZeneca is gearing up to produce 1 billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine if their clinical trials are successful. The British drugmaker is working with Oxford University to develop their vaccine.
AstraZeneca said in a statement that it received more than $1 billion from the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to develop, produce and deliver the potential vaccine. The U.S. has pledged to order 300 million doses if the potential vaccine proves effective.
This could lead to a possible U.S.-based clinical trial of 30,000 volunteers this summer.
In Canada, there are many potential drugs and vaccines being developed to treat or prevent COVID-19.
The Canadian government requires drugs to be put through clinical trials. A clinical trial is done with volunteers who give their consent. The effects and benefits of the drug are weighed against any possible side effects to determine whether it is safe for the marketplace. Once a drug is given market authorization, it will continue to be monitored and assessed for its safety on the Canadian market.
In May 2020, the Canadian government signed an interim agreement that recognized the importance of producing a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19. The interim order was put in place to make it easier for clinical trials to take place in Canada.
Existing Drugs Could be Used to Treat or Prevent COVID-19
There are many potential existing drugs and vaccines that are being studied for their potential use for COVID-19. In Canada, researchers are looking at the following types of drugs for their potential to be used to treat or prevent COVID-19.
- antiviral drugs
- antimalarial drugs
- monoclonal antibodies and other drugs that address inflammation
- medical gases
- convalescent plasma collected from patients who have recovered from COVID-19
Convalescent Plasma is the plasma taken from people who have recovered from a virus. It is generally believed that once a person has recovered from a virus, they develop antibodies that are necessary to fight off that virus. The antibodies develop in the recovered person’s plasma so they are able to fight off the virus if it were to be reinfected in the future.
Plasma is a pale yellow component of human blood that holds the blood cells in suspension. It makes up about 55% of the total volume of blood.
While many are hoping to use convalescent plasma as a treatment option for COVID-19, it has not yet been deemed as a safe treatment option. However, the Canadian government is working towards finding a suitable treatment or vaccine for COVID-19. In this respect, there is currently a nation-wide clinical trial underway to test the effectiveness and safety of this option.
Donors who have recovered from COVID-19 are supplying plasma for those who are hospitalized with COVID-19. More than 40 hospitals across the country are participating in the trial. The plasma is being collected by Canadian Blood Services.
Read next: The Best Foods to Boost your Immunity
Are you at Risk?
While there are currently no approved vaccine for COVID-19, there are more than 100 trials underway around the world to change that fact. Experts in the field estimate that a vaccine may take between 12-18 months to be ready for the market.
Keeping your family safe during this time is not always an easy task. Fortunately, Your Doctors Online offers 24 hour access to a doctor when you need it most.
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