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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.




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