Skip to main content

Herculean effort to find a vaccine

Scientists across the globe are searching for a vaccine against the virus that causes COVID-19.  Let's applaud them too.

A vaccine for the COVID-19 virus is still said to be 'a long way off' with best estimates being early next year.    The first potential vaccine entered clinical trials on 16th March 2020.  Vaccines cannot be conjured with a magic wand.

Ordinarily, vaccines can take up to ten years to produce. The first Ebola vaccine took five years, and that was considered fast.



The imperative is now to find a COVID-19 vaccine a lot faster.   Teams across the world a working flat out developing and testing possible agents.

One reason it usually takes so long is what is termed the attrition rate - that is, the number of potential vaccines that don't make it through trials.

The failures could be hundreds.  Safety and effectiveness are of paramount importance, and that means rigorous testing.

The production of a vaccine isn't what we see in the movies -  brave scientists working through the night, producing a vaccine and then using it successfully.

The clock ticks on the wall, while a nurse mops the fevered brow of a subject tossing and turning in a hospital bed, and by morning the fever has gone, and the sun is shining.   That is the stuff of fiction.  A vaccine isn't a cure.  It is prevention, provoking our immune systems to respond and remember its response so that when attacked again, it can produce the antibodies to fend off the attacker.

The reality is hard science and step by step processes.  It involves collaboration and dedication of many scientists and clinicians.  The vaccine creators are unsung heroes.

A proof of concept, a small trial to test its safety, another to test for efficacy, and so on, searching for the one agent that is both safe and effective. Some of these stages are hazardous in themselves, involving the use of animal testing.  Given the likely source of the current coronavirus, great care is needed to prevent man-induced leaps of more dangerous viruses.

Finding a vaccine is a bit like a tv game show.  It starts with hundreds of applicants, a possible vaccine, and these are whittled down to the most viable.   As of now, there are around 115 candidates.  Some are bits of the virus, RNA, protein, others are the inactivated virus. Only a handful will enter full trials.  Perhaps one will be the winner.  Let's hope so.

A vaccine is still many months away, and meanwhile, people are dying.

All this is why rolling out testing for COVID-19  is so vital if we are to come out of lockdown.  We need to move to a test, trace and treat strategy so there can be an effectively phased easing of restrictions.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The lion and the wildebeest

Birds flock, fish school, bees swarm, but social being is more than simply sticking together.  Social groups enable specialisation and a sharing of abilities, and enhances ability, learning and creating new tricks. The more a group works together, the more effective they become as a team.  Chimpanzees learn from each other how to use stones to crack nuts, or sticks to get termites.  All around us we see cooperation and learning in nature.  Nature is inherently creative.  Pulling together becomes a rallying cry during a crisis.  We have heard it throughout the coronavirus pandemic.  "We are all in this together", a mantra that encourages people to adopt a common strategy. In an era of 'self-interest' and 'survival of the fittest,'  and 'selfish gene', we lose sight of the obvious conclusion from the evidence all around us.   Sticking together is more often the better approach.  This is valid for the lion as it is also for the wildebeest.   We don't

Noise pollution puts nature at risk

 "I just want a bit of peace and quiet!" Let's get away from all the hustle and bustle; the sound of endless traffic on the roads, of the trains on the railway, and the planes in the sky; the incessant drone; the noise. We live in a world of man-made noise; screeching, bellowing, on-and-on in an unmelodious cacophony.  This constant background noise has now become a significant health hazard.   With average background levels of 60 decibels, those who live in cities are often exposed to noise over 85 decibels, enough to cause significant hearing loss over time.  It causes stress, high blood pressure, headache and loss of sleep and poor health and well-being.   In nature, noise has content and significance.  From the roar of the lion, the laughing of a hyena,  communication is essential for life; as the warning of danger, for bonding as a group or a pair, finding a mate, or for establishing a position in a hierarchy - chattering works.  Staying in touch is vital to working

Therapeutic animal stress

Interacting with animals is known to be therapeutic,  particularly in reducing stress.  But do we consider sufficiently the effects this may have on the animals involved?   We might assume that because it is calming for us, then it must be so for the therapeutic animals, but is this so?  New research suggests that it isn't always without stress for the animals involved.  Positive human-animal interaction relates to changes in physiological variables both in humans and other animals, including a reduction of subjective psychological stress (fear, anxiety) and an increase of oxytocin levels in the brain.  It also reduces the 'stress' hormone, cortisol. Indeed, these biological responses have measurable clinical benefits.  Oxytocin has long been implicated in maternal bonding, sexual behaviour and social affiliation behaviours and in promoting a sense of well-being .  So far, so good.  We humans often turn to animals for stress relief, companionship, and even therapy.  We kno