‘How long until a COVID-19 vaccine arrives?’
In our COVID-ridden world, this is a persistent question nagging at the back of nearly everyone’s minds. In fact, it’s a question of utmost significance for the youth heading back to school in September because the answer will dictate the manner in which they receive their education in the coming months.
In theory, a vaccine can return things to the ‘old normal’: mask-wearing could be rendered non-essential, social distancing guidelines could be relaxed, and schools could go back to their original modes of in-classroom delivery. In short, a vaccine promises a future many dare not speak aloud during current times – a future that many people dream about in an act of profound hope. I, too, am a young hopeful who checks news sources on a regular basis to get the latest updates on vaccine developments to figure out when this pandemic will end for good. After sifting through dozens of news articles: I have gathered 3 key pieces of information which applies to every potential COVID-19 vaccine:
- Developing a vaccine involves a tremendous amount of industrial, scientific and political cooperation.
- Each vaccine must pass a multi-step clinical trial process which may take several years to complete. To give context, the fastest vaccine came to the market within four years of initiation.
- Even after a vaccine is approved, it may face many roadblocks, ranging from scaling, manufacturing, to distribution before it is accessible to the masses.
The good news is that there are several candidates for a life-saving vaccine which can rid the world of the menace that is COVID-19. More than 170 of them are being tracked by the World Health Organization (WHO). Here is a comprehensive summary of the ‘horses’ in the race which Canada has bet its money on:
- Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies (Johnson & Johnson):
Headquarters: Raritan, N.J, USA
Doses Reserved: 38 million
Phase of Development: Phase 1 & 2 started in July
Function: This is a new type of vaccine called a non-replicating viral vector – it only uses a piece of the coronavirus DNA. Specifically, this vaccine targets a protein called spike protein (S-protein) which the virus uses to bind to and enter human cells. The DNA, with instructions to create the S-protein, is carried into a human body through a common cold virus called an adenovirus. The vaccine triggers the immune system to replicate and recognize it.
Current Situation: In July, the company announced that the vaccine protected monkeys against the virus and initiated a Phase ½ trial in Belgium and the US. This week, the company disclosed that it is starting a Phase 2 trial in Spain, the Netherlands and Germany. Phase 3 trials will be conducted in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico.
Headquarters: Cambridge, Mass., USA
Doses Reserved: 56 million
Phase of Development: Phase 3 began in July
Function: This vaccine is made of messenger RNA or mRNA. mRNA is used by cells to translate instructions found in DNA to make proteins. When injected, these instructions are applied to make stable versions of the S-protein found in SARS-CoV2. This enables the immune system to produce antibodies after recognizing the virus.
Current Situation: In May, it was reported that the vaccine succeeded in producing protective antibodies in a small pool of healthy volunteers. It is important to note that 3 people had severe or ‘systemic’ adverse reactions during the early stage trials. Moderna launched the first Phase 3 clinical trials in July and aims to enroll 30,000 volunteers.
Headquarters: Gaithersburg, Md., USA
Doses Reserved: 76 million
Phase of Development: Phase 1 & 2 clinical trial began in May
Function: This prospective vaccine, reserved by the government, is synthesized from the nanoparticles of a protein in the coronavirus that is responsible for COVID-19. Once an injection containing the compound is administered, the body learns to identify and defend itself against the virus.
Current Situation: Publications from the Phase 1 trial revealed that the vaccine stimulates high levels of neutralizing antibodies with minimal side effects. The company is currently running a combined Phase 1 and 2 trial.
- Pfizer/ BioNTech
Headquarters: New York, N.Y, USA; Mainz, Germany
Doses Reserved: 20 million
Phase of Development: Phase 2 & 3 clinical trial initiated in July
Function: Pfizer and BioNtech’s vaccine efforts resemble that of Moderna’s. It’s an mRNA sequence for a stabilized spike protein and delivered in a lipid nanoparticle container.
Current Situation: The joint venture tested 2 separate mRNA sequences for Phase 1. Early studies explained that the vaccine triggered higher levels of neutralizing antibodies with fewer side effects. A combined Phase 2 and 3 trial is presently underway.