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Update: The coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford appears safe and triggers an immune response. The potential vaccine is already in large-scale phase III human trials. Officially known as AZD1222, the vaccine has prompted a protective immune response in hundreds of people.
According to recent reports by WHO, there are 2,303,312 COVID-19 infected persons around the world, with 270,765 deaths. Researchers and health experts around the globe are ardently focused on studying the novel coronavirus, where new findings and understanding help in the better management of the diseases, and also pave way for a possible effective vaccine, as soon as possible.
According to the WHO, 13 experimental vaccines are being tested in humans and more than 120 others in early stages of development. Here is the updated list of vaccines that are currently under study.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK): The world's largest vaccine developer working on an adjuvant, an efficacy booster that is combined with more traditional vaccines. An adjuvant is a pharmacological or immunological agent that improves the immune response of a vaccine.
Clover Biopharmaceuticals: The organisation has begun the trials of their vaccine COVID-19 S-Trimer sub-unit vaccine candidate (SCB-2019). The vaccine is based on proteins called antigens that will be taken in combination with the adjuvants.
Institute of Medical Biology: An inactivated Covid-19 vaccine candidate has entered phase-2 clinical trials in China.
The Israel Institute for Biological Research: A vaccine developed by the institute has been reported to show rapid and potent induction of neutralising antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.
Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine: Researchers suggested that the MMR vaccine could help reduce inflammation associated with Covid-19 infection.
The Difference Between Vaccine And Medicine
While vaccine and medicines or treatment drugs can both be injected, the two are not the same . Simply put, vaccination prevents disease, while medicines cure the disease. The vaccine is the prevention against any bacteria or viruses, and it acts as an agent to protect your body from diseases. It stimulates a person's immune system and produces immunity to a specific disease . Vaccines are administered through needle injections, while in some cases it can also be administered by mouth or sprayed into the nose.
Medicines or treatment drugs are substances used in treating disease or illness - that is, it is used when one gets affected by any disease . Drugs can be a chemical, herbal or biological product used to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent disease, and are used with the intention to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals . These can be of natural origin, animal origin, microbial origin, chemical synthesis and can be derived from radioactive substances as well .
Vaccines and drugs both have the potential for interaction with disease, drugs and other vaccines . While focusing on the differences, it can be pointed out that vaccines are almost always biological products, whereas drugs or medicines can be chemical or biological. Vaccines are normally given in schedules, where they are given for whole populations and/or age groups, while the use of drugs is individualised .
Lastly, vaccinations are supposed to protect whole populations with the intention of herd immunity, while drugs are for the benefit of the individual . Now, let's explore the vaccine development process for COVID-19.
COVID-19 Vaccine Development
Scientists are focused on developing coronavirus vaccines through different approaches and they are as follows :
- Whole virus vaccine: Whole virus vaccines use weakened or dead forms of the virus that causes the disease and are effective in developing immunity for the long run. However, it poses the risk of illness . According to reports, researchers at the University of Hong Kong and Johnson & Johnson are working on developing COVID-19 vaccines .
- Recombinant protein subunit vaccine: These vaccines do not contain any live pathogens and are less likely to be risky. Novavax, Clover Biopharmaceuticals and some other organisations and universities are focused on developing these vaccines . These vaccines can have the potential to attack the S-protein in coronavirus, which infects the cells.
- Antibody vaccine: A group of researchers are focused on developing a vaccine using antibodies from the SARS outbreak that began in 2002 because SARS has many similarities to COVID-19 . One of the major motivations behind this vaccine development is that the antibodies that neutralise the SARS-causing virus have the potential to limit the levels of infection caused by the novel coronavirus .
- Nucleic acid vaccine: These types of vaccines inject genetic material, such as DNA or RNA, into a live host where it directly connects with the immune system . Nucleic acid vaccines enable the immune system to fight off particular pathogens, thereby making it a possible candidate for coronavirus infection prevention .
When Will COVID-19 Vaccines Be Ready?
The time frame for the development of coronavirus vaccines vary widely depending on the team producing it, that is, a scientist or a businessperson. There have been various inputs on the time that will take for the development of the vaccines, which varies between months to years .
Scientists point out that developing a coronavirus vaccine could take at least a year, could take 12-18 months or it might not even be possible during the current outbreak . The average time frame that health experts point out in the development of a vaccine is because there are many steps in place to ensure that it is safe and effective for application in humans.
A vaccine, before being applied in humans undergoes a series of clinical trials and they are as follows :
- Phase I: Evaluating the vaccine's safety and ability to generate an immune system response in a small group of people.
- Phase II: This stage follows testing people, possibly hundreds, to determine the right dosage levels.
- Phase III: Testing thousands of people to analyze the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
Currently, Are There Any Treatments For COVID-19?
The answer is, no. However, various drugs have been applied for COVID-19 patients, in different countries. A recent report states that the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has received approval for its two clinical trial drugs - favipiravir and phytopharmaceutical to combat coronavirus .
Another report from China states that a coronavirus vaccine - PiCoVacc has been developed, which showed positive results in clinical trials. The vaccine has been undergoing human tests in China since mid-April .
A group of researchers pointed out the use of existing antibiotics to fight COVID-19, such as teicoplanin, oritavancin, dalbavancin, monensin and emetine . These are approved antibiotics that have been shown to inhibit corona and other viruses in studies. Clinical investigations into the effectiveness of lopinavir, ritonavir, and remdesivir are also undergoing .
On 29 April, Gilead Sciences Inc. announced that in Phase 3 of the remdesivir drug application, Covid-19 patients have recovered from the disease, where 50 per cent of the patients showed clinical improvement in 10 days' time 5-day treatment group and 11 days in the 10-day treatment group. Also, more than half of patients in both treatment groups were discharged from the hospital by Day 14 .
Hydroxychloroquine was in the news for its ‘possible' role in treating COVID-19, but recent studies had pointed out that the so-called wonder drug is not effective and may even be fatal in some cases .
Various drugs used for the treatment of disease-causing pathogens like ebola, HIV, leprosy, etc. are being tested against the novel coronavirus. Lopinavir or ritonavir is a fixed-dose combination of drugs, used in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, and has been approved for COVD-19 patients .
Disulfiram, a drug used in the treatment of alcoholism is also being studied as it was used in the SARS and MERS outbreaks and helps to produce an immune response . Diarrhoea medicine, loperamide is being considered in the treatment for COVID-19 as diarrhoea has now been listed as one of the symptoms of COVID-19 .
What Is The Update For COVID-19 Treatment?
As of now, a number of studies and clinical trials are being carried out to develop an effective and safe treatment for coronavirus infection. Until a vaccine becomes available, people should protect themselves and others by following the public health guidelines.
To protect themselves and others from coronavirus, one should :
- not touch their faces,
- frequently wash hands with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds,
- use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol, if washing the hands is not possible,
- avoid touching the face, and
- cover sneezes and coughing into the crook of the elbow or use a paper towel.
On A Final Note…
COVID-19 is currently a major health challenge, and doctors and researchers around the globe are ardently working towards developing an effective vaccine.