Coronavirus continues to spread around the globe, with new epicenters changing week by week. Currently there are still no drugs or vaccines available, but could something be coming soon rather than later?
Vaccines work by prompting the immune system to make antibodies to defend the body against a specific disease, as if they had it. The tricky part is to do so without actually making the person sick. Vaccines also need to be safe for different groups of people to use, including young children, older adults, healthcare workers, and people with underlying health conditions.
After a person receives a vaccination, they develop immunity to the disease, which means that their bodies would be able to fight it off if they ever had exposure to it.
To date, the World Health Organization (WHO), says three vaccine candidates are in the clinical testing phase, meaning they are able to be tested on humans, while 67 potential vaccines are in preclinical phase.
Most of the vaccines we rely on today took between five and 15 years to perfect. However we have had a slight head start with this virus. Because of genome sequencing of the new coronavirus provided by scientists in China, scientists know it shares 79 percent of the same genetic material as SARS, and 50 percent of the same material as MERS. This allows developers to use groundwork already created in research for vaccines for those viruses.
The National Institutes of Health has been fast-tracking work with biotech company Moderna to develop a vaccine using the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus. The early-stage, or phase 1, trial will test the vaccine on 45 males and non-pregnant females between the ages of 18 and 55, according to trial details on NIH’s website.
Vaccines must be rigorously tested to ensure they not only work but will not cause other dangerous side-effects.
Typically, the trial methodology consists of three phases:
1. Testing on a small number of healthy adults
2. Testing on a larger number of adults in an area where the disease has spread
3.Testing on thousands of people in an area where the disease has spread
Once a candidate vaccine passes through those hoops, the challenge is to produce it in the volume necessary to end a pandemic. Although we do not have an exact timeline of when a vaccine will be available to the public, it is clear we are taking the fast track and putting all resources behind the research to ensure we are moving at a rapid pace.
As specific medications to treat COVID-19 do not yet exist, treatment will focus on alleviating symptoms while a person recovers. Antibiotics cannot treat COVID-19, as they are meant for bacterial infections and have no affect on viruses such as coronavirus. However, some researchers are looking at repurposing existing drugs, including antibiotics, as COVID-19 treatments.
As it remains to be seen how long it will take until there is a workable vaccine against COVID-19. For the time being, the best way to ensure you reduce your risk of infection is to follow the World Health Organization’s advice on hand-washing and social distancing.