By Ir. Dr. Gomesh Nair
Hundreds of millions of people have been affected by COVID-19, and the death toll around the globe has reached 3 million and is still rising.
The search for a cure may seem far-fetched, with the implementation of preventative mechanisms currently our only viable solution to this disease, but many researchers have been actively pursuing an effective vaccine to bring the pandemic to an end.
Road to creating a vaccine
Did you know that the research on vaccine development against the virus didn’t just happen 2 years ago during the initial outbreak?
Two activities predate the development of the COVID-19 vaccines that have recently been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) and brought to market, which are:
- the implementation of new Vaccine platforms such as RNA
- the design of immunogens that powerfully stimulate the body's immune system.
The discovery of an immunogen adaptable to multiple platforms such as messenger RNA, as used within COVID-19 vaccines, resulted from collaboration across different scientific sub-specialities.
This initiative commenced earlier in the pursuit of a cure for HIV, and a vaccine for The Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
It was within the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases where researchers have strived for many years to use the tools of structure-based vaccine design to understand and decide on the optimal structure of a protein from a virus.
This is also known as the envelope protein, which permits HIV to cling on to cells and ultimately triggers the production of antibodies that eventually neutralize many HIV viral strains. The output from this research established a platform for working on the COVID-19 vaccines.
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash
How was the vaccine for COVID-19 developed so fast?
Vaccine development is a laborious process, and usually takes years to develop, but with global danger at hand, drastic action was needed to reduce the number of deaths and infections.
There was also a need to prevent a chain reaction that if left unchecked would likely have knocked out entire healthcare systems and economies.
So, to answer the question, many initiatives were taken by countries to expedite the process such as Operation Warp Speed, ACTIV, the COVID-19 Prevention Trials Network (COVPN), COVAX, and many more.
When scientists first learned about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, they weren't starting from scratch. Researchers discovered the viral sequence of SARS-CoV-2 in January 2020, roughly 10 days after the first reported pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China, thanks to advances in genomic sequencing. Due to the collaboration of experts and resources, the Covid-19 vaccine was created in a record speed of 1 year.
How does the COVID-19 vaccine work?