As fall approaches rapidly, many are wondering if the race for a vaccine will bear fruit as early as January 2021.
“I am a physician-scientist and infectious diseases specialist at the University of Virginia, where I care for patients and conduct research into COVID-19. I am occasionally asked how I can be sure that researchers will develop a successful vaccine to prevent COVID-19. After all, we still don’t have one for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.”
“Here is where the current research stands, where I think we will be in five months and why you can be optimistic about the delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine.”
1. Human immune system cures COVID-19
In as many as 99% of all COVID-19 cases, the patient recovers from the infection, and the virus is cleared from the body.
2. Antibodies targeting spike protein prevent infection
A vaccine will protect, in part, by inducing the production of antibodies against the spike protein on the surface of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
3. Spike glycoprotein contains multiple targets
The spike protein has many locations where antibodies can bind to and neutralize the virus. That’s good news because with so many vulnerable spots, it will be difficult for the virus to mutate to avoid a vaccine.
4. We know how to make a safe vaccine
Safety of a new COVID-19 vaccine is improved by researchers’ understanding of potential vaccine side effects and how to avoid them.
5. Several different vaccines in development
The U.S. government is supporting the development of several different vaccines via Operation Warp Speed.
The goal of Operation Warp Speed is to deliver 300 million doses of a safe and effective vaccine by January 2021.
6. Vaccines passing through phase I and II trials
Phase I and phase II trials test if a vaccine is safe and induces an immune response. Already the results to date from three different vaccine trials are promising, triggering the production of anti-spike neutralizing antibodies levels that are two- to four-fold higher than those seen in people who have recovered from COVID-19.
7. Phase III clinical trials are underway
During a phase III trial, the final step in vaccine development process, the vaccine is tested on tens of thousands of individuals to determine if it works to prevent infection with SARS-CoV-2, and that it is safe.
The vaccine produced by Moderna and NIH and the vaccine from Oxford-AstraZeneca began phase III trials in July. Other COVID-19 vaccines will be starting phase III within weeks.
8. Accelerating vaccine production and deployment
Operation Warp Speed is paying for the production of millions of doses of vaccines and supporting vaccine manufacturing at an industrial scale even before researchers have demonstrated vaccine efficacy and safety.
9. Vaccine distributors are being contracted now
McKesson Corp., the largest vaccine distributor in the U.S., has already been contracted by the CDC to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine to sites – including clinics and hospitals – where the vaccine will be administered.
I believe that it is realistic that we will know sometime in late 2020 whether some COVID-19 vaccines are safe, exactly how effective they are and which ones should be used to vaccinate the U.S. population in 2021.
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