Where We Stand with the Coronavirus Vaccine

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Scientists everywhere are working day and night to develop a vaccine for the Coronavirus currently making its way around the world. But, not all vaccines are the same, and each has its own pros and cons. Here’s a look at some of the types of vaccines currently being developed globally.


The first type is an RNA Vaccine. This is a newer style of vaccine, and is considered a game changer in the field of vaccines because of the promise it shows to treat a wide range of illnesses, some of which have not had major treatments in the past. This type of vaccine uses the virus’s genetic code to tell the body what to look for and defend against once injected. The exciting advancement with this type is that only the genetic code of the virus is needed, not the actual virus itself, which is something that often makes people a little hesitant.

The next type is a DNA Vaccine. This is what we think of when we think of a typical vaccine. This uses an antigen—a piece of the virus, which is usually defunct—to show the body what it should fight when exposed to it. The body then learns that it needs to develop certain antibodies to fight this antigen. Because this uses parts of the actual virus it fights, it presents the need to breed the virus, which can cause different issues or limitations, with some people worried about what could happen with producing the amount of a virus needed for mass distribution of a vaccine.

The last type is not a new vaccine entirely, but rather uses existing vaccines or vaccine research to form a useful new one. There have been outbreaks of other Coronaviruses in the past, and therefore there has been research into and development for vaccines for those strains. While we are currently facing a new Coronavirus, it does share some connections with previous ones, such as similarities in genetic codes. This means scientists can use existing vaccine research done on its relatives to find what worked for shared qualities, then additions can be made to make the vaccine fit the current need.


When the need for a vaccine arises, there are two main stages of the research and development. Each of these has multiple steps within each of them before the vaccine is ready for widespread public use. The process is broken down into two main stages.
The first stage focuses on lab development. Here, all the research into how to actually form what we would consider the vaccine is done. Scientists work to identify the virus’s genetic code and antigens, then they create prototypes for the vaccine. These prototypes are then tested in the lab for a basic understanding of how they function. Once this is completed, the potential vaccine is ready to move onto the next step.

In the second stage, human clinical trials are completed. The human clinical trials are broken up into four phases. In Phase One, an initial test is done with a small group of paid volunteers to see how a recipient processes the vaccine, how it affects the recipient, and any major side effects. Phase Two expands the controlled test group and sees how the vaccine works in a larger number of participants. Here, the test group is often randomly divided, and some receive the vaccine while others receive either a standard treatment or a placebo to see what works and does not work. This process can take months to a few years.

Again, Phase Three expands on Phase Two, and features a far greater number of participants. This phase also helps pharmaceutical companies and the FDA to understand the vaccine’s effectiveness and potential side effects. This phase can last a few years, and if the vaccine is successful, the FDA can approve it for public distribution. However, the phases do not stop there. Finally comes Phase Four, which follows the vaccine as it is distributed to the general public. Drug companies will continue to monitor the vaccine for continued effectiveness, as well as potential cost-managing processes for later editions of the vaccine.

 

Sources:
https://www.centerwatch.com/clinical-trials/overview
https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/basics/test-approve.html
https://hms.harvard.edu/news/designing-coronavirus-vaccine
http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/rna-vaccines-a-novel-technology-to-prevent-and-treat-disease/