COVID-19 Vaccine Technology and Development

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and its fast spread around the world meant that pharmaceutical companies and researchers were scrambling to manufacture a vaccine to be distributed worldwide. Despite technology being highly advanced, developing the vaccine was a hard task for some of the top companies. Taking into account the trial times prior to distribution, as well as its high demand around the world, people became hesitant about the different vaccines offered in their countries. Because of how quickly each vaccine was developed, people were unsure about the reliability and efficacy of the vaccine. Nevertheless, getting vaccinated is essential in ending this pandemic and returning back to life as we knew it before.

How did Edward Jenner test his smallpox vaccine?
Edward Jenner and his vaccine for smallpox (Credit: ALAMY)

Vaccines are essential in helping to stop the spread of diseases like the coronavirus. Vaccinations are part of the process of immunization, which essentially makes us immune to disease and protects us against it. The practice of immunization has been around for hundreds of years. In 17th century China, Buddhist monks drank snake venom to build immunity against snake bites. In the next century, Edward Jenner demonstrated immunity to smallpox. By 1979, smallpox had been completely eradicated because of vaccination. Since then, many vaccines have been developed for a variety of diseases. Furthermore, vaccination builds up herd immunity. If a large proportion of the population becomes immune to a disease, the likelihood of infection will decrease for those who lack immunity. Immunization benefits not only the individual but the whole population as well in fighting infection diseases. This is why everyone should get vaccinated against COVID-19 within the next few months, if possible.

The development of a successful vaccine can take a while because there are many steps involved. In some cases, it takes up to 10 to 15 years. The fastest it has ever taken was for mumps – 4 years in the 1960s. This has been a challenge for the coronavirus in particular, because there was a demand for the widespread disease within a very short amount of time. The lengthy process can be attributed to the three-stage clinical trial process it must follow before it can be sent to agencies for approval. In phase one, the safety of the vaccine is tested on a small group of healthy humans to see if it triggers an immune response. In the next phase, this testing pool is broadened to include more groups of people who may have the disease or are prone to catching it. This is to test the effectiveness of the vaccine. In the last phase, the pool is expanded to thousands of people who vary by age, ethnicity and underlying health conditions.

The scramble to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus began shortly after the pandemic became widespread around the world. By October 2020, there were around 150 vaccines for the coronavirus being tested at leading research institutes and companies around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) have coordinated global efforts for its development and are looking to distribute 2 billion doses of it by the end of 2021. Throughout 2020, pharmaceutical companies and research institutes ran trials for their respective vaccines. By 2021, a few vaccines were approved by WHO for widespread use and distribution: Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Sinopharm, and AstraZeneca. So far, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have had the most complications in comparison to the others, including the development of blood clots, which could be fatal. Each country buys the amount of doses that they need, but this has led to vaccine nationalism, in which governments sign agreements with pharmaceutical companies so that they can get their hands on a vaccine supply for their population, ahead of other countries. In other words, it is a race to who can inoculate their population the fastest. It is inherently harmful because it highlights the large wealth gap between developed and developing countries and unfairly puts innocent people’s health at risk, especially vulnerable people.

Finland suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine

There are several misconceptions and myths about vaccines that make people reluctant to get one. One myth is that vaccinations cause the disease they are trying to prevent. This is false because vaccines do not contain active viruses, so they are unable to cause any diseases. As an immunization, vaccines stimulate our immune systems to produce antibodies that fight against diseases. Secondly, there is a myth that the effectiveness of vaccines has never been proven. It has been scientifically proven that vaccines are extremely effective. 95 to almost 100 percent of children do not contract the targeted disease and successfully develop immunity against it. Of course, because of the short turnover time for the COVID-19 vaccine, it is more difficult to prove at the moment. Thirdly, some people think that vaccines contain unsafe toxins. Vaccines do contain traces of formaldehyde, mercury and aluminum, but these actually make the vaccines safer. They make sure that vaccines are sterile and are able to perform their jobs effectively. There is a claim about the COVID-19 vaccine specifically that getting vaccinated will cause the body to be magnetic, but this was proven to be false. It is incredibly easy for myths and misconceptions to spread because of how quickly things can go viral on the internet.

Right now, at the rate that the coronavirus is infecting people around the world, it is more important than ever for everyone to get vaccinated if there are vaccines available. Each country has subscribed to certain vaccines and governments are encouraging their citizens to get vaccinated. There are side effects, just like every other vaccine and medicine, but in the long run the vaccine would reduce how serious the symptoms are and help to protect us from the virus.


Feature Image: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images


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