The rapid surge of COVID-19 has left medical experts around the world scrambling to produce vaccines and protect patients from the threat of COVID-19. As of March 24, 2020, more than 85 clinical trials are underway to test the safety and efficacy of coronavirus treatments and vaccines. Though the process takes time, experts believe at least three vaccines are closest to being tested, approved, and available to all Americans.
What is a Vaccine?
A vaccine is formulated to protect the body against a specific disease, like polio, chicken pox, or the measles. For this reason, the vaccine for each disease is unique.
Vaccines contain very weak or dead strains of the disease at hand. For example, the measles vaccine contains strains of the measles virus. This doesn’t put the body at risk of infection, but it does effectively stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies that fight the disease.
Once a person is vaccinated, he develops a stronger immunity to the disease, which limits his vulnerability and ultimately stops him from contracting the disease in the future. Vaccinations are responsible for stopping the spread of serious and previously deadly diseases like hepatitis A, meningitis, and polio.
How are Vaccines Tested?
All vaccines must undergo stringent clinical research studies before being approved for public use. Clinical trials occur in stages, first with 20-100 volunteers, then with about 200 volunteers, and finally with thousands of volunteers. Research teams evaluate the effects of the vaccination to answer questions such as:
- Is the vaccine safe?
- What dosage is best?
- How does the immune system react?
- What are the side effects?
Successful clinical trials are approved by the FDA, allowing doctors and medical professionals to vaccinate their patients against dangerous diseases.
What are the Most Promising Vaccines for Coronavirus Right Now?
Multiple clinical trials of potential COVID-19 vaccines are currently underway. According to Dr. Anthony Faci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, it may take up to 18 months to complete clinical trials and make these vaccines available to the general public.
Moderna, Inc. is currently completing a Phase I clinical trial of its vaccine mRNA-1273 with 45 healthy adults ages 18 to 55. Rather than using a piece of the COVID-19 virus itself, this vaccine actually uses a part of the virus’ genetic sequence called messenger RNA (mRNA). It’s believed that the mRNA can direct the body’s cells to produce an antibody that fights against the COVID-19 virus.
Phase I testing will evaluate safety of the vaccine, including whether it triggers an immune response. The 45 study participants receive an injection on day 1 and day 29, followed by close evaluation for 12 months.
Based in Tarrytown, New York, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is testing a COVID-19 vaccine that delivers a combination of antibodies proven to target different parts of the virus. The goal is to block specific coronavirus proteins from bonding with host cells, which in turn would neutralize the virus and prevent infection.
Finally, Inovio Pharmaceuticals is working to develop a vaccine based on the virus’ genetic sequence. This type of “DNA medicine” blends pieces of DNA to create a specific immune response in the body. Once this type of vaccine is injected into cells, it is believed to replicate and strengthen the body’s immune capabilities.
Inovio also used this method to develop a MERS vaccine currently in Phase II clinical testing. It plans to begin Phase I clinical tests for the COVID-19 vaccine in April with 30 healthy people.