We Can Never Never Get the COVID-19 Vaccine

The entire world is eagerly awaiting the COVID-19 vaccine, in line with current estimates of 12 to 18 months . Some agencies say we could have a vaccine even earlier than we can — there is even a website that tracks all vaccines and treatments in development . Many people seem to believe that all we have to do is squat for a year , after which life will return to normal.

And although we have good reason to hope that we will have and will have a vaccine, in reality everything is much more complicated. Under normal circumstances, vaccine development is a complex and time-consuming process. Even with the additional pressure of the pandemic putting pressure on the process, there is no guarantee that we will have the vaccine in 12-18 months. There is no guarantee that we will ever have a vaccine.

For example, we still do n’t have an HIV vaccine , despite decades of effort and some of our best minds to tackle the challenge.

“[Vaccine development] is an art, not just science,” says Catherine Troisi , infectious disease epidemiologist at UTHealth School of Public Health.

It’s hard to predict what will work

One limitation of vaccine development is that it is difficult to predict which one will work. Vaccines work by stimulating our immune system to make antibodies that recognize the virus and trigger other immune cells to respond.

“We don’t know much about immunity to this virus,” Troisi says. Scientists still have to confirm which antibodies are effective and which part of the virus will stimulate the production of these antibodies.

For example, many of the vaccines under development are aimed at tricking the body into producing antibodies against the spike proteins found in the envelope of the virus, as these antibodies are found in people who have survived the infection.

However, just because these antibodies can be found in patients does not mean that they are effective in stimulating the immune system to fight the virus. Other antibodies – the ones we still haven’t found – may actually provide immunity.

To stimulate your immune system to make antibodies, you first need to identify the site of the virus that will stimulate the production of antibodies, and then you have to hope that the antibodies produced by the vaccine built at that site are effective at delivery. immunity. It’s a tricky process, especially since we won’t know if a vaccine works until the candidate vaccine is tested in humans.

Good news? “We have the best tools [to get the job done],” says John Cook , a medical scientist at Houston Methodist Hospital who is currently collaborating with pharmaceutical company GeneOne to develop an RNA vaccine against COVID-19 .

For example, scientists were able to quickly sequence the genome of the coronavirus, information vital to the development of potential vaccines, some of which are already being tested. The speed with which we develop and manufacture candidate vaccines is absolutely unprecedented.

Vaccine development is a numbers game

In many ways, developing an effective vaccine is a numbers game. You must try many approaches in the hope that one of them will be successful.

“Do we have enough vaccines under development?” – says John Cook. “What else falls on the pike?”

This is why it is so important to have many vaccines in development and try many different approaches to designing their function. There is no good way to predict which one will be successful: if a vaccine has 1 in 100 effective vaccines, what if only 99 vaccines are currently in development?

The good news is that there are a number of companies developing candidate vaccines, and they are taking a variety of different approaches.

“This vaccine has a lot of innovative ideas,” says Cook.

Testing takes time and is extremely important

Each of these attempts must be thoroughly and thoroughly tested to evaluate their safety and effectiveness. This includes phase I, II and III trials , in which a vaccine is tested in volunteers and evaluated for both efficacy and dangerous or unwanted side effects.

While there are ways to speed up testing, it is still a long process. As much as we hope the vaccines currently being tested in humans are safe and will work, there are no guarantees. We just have to keep trying until we find the right one. If one of the later developed vaccines turns out to be suitable, this obviously means that you will have more time to live with the danger of the virus.

It is also imperative to make sure that the vaccine is safe and effective: if a vaccine is rushed to market and only later we find out that it has dangerous side effects or does not work as it should, this will only create additional problems. …

Immunity may be short-lived

We get a new flu shot every year. Even with the vaccine, we still sometimes get the flu. This is because the flu is a virus that mutates quickly.

“Viruses can mutate,” says Cook. “They can mutate to the point where they are no longer sensitive to the vaccine you create.”

If the coronavirus turns out to be one of those viruses that mutate quickly, it could be a situation where we should get vaccinated annually. As Troisi points out, although we have not yet observed a large number of mutations in this virus, it is also not under any evolutionary pressure to mutate. Once people get immunity with the vaccine, we can see more mutations.

As difficult as it is to think about it, the possibility exists that we could spend years waiting for a vaccine or not getting it at all. The probability is small, but it does exist, and it is worth taking a little time to imagine what the future might look like in this scenario.

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