It is possible that in the last hours you have read the “news” coming from the Far East: things like ” China claims to have successfully developed a coronavirus vaccine “etc. In the midst of quarantine and while the number of infections and deaths continues to rise, the good news is needed. Unfortunately, it is too good to be true.
No, China has not successfully developed a coronavirus vaccine. China is to begin Phase I of human testing of a vaccine. This phase will last until the end of the year and will tell us if it is safe. Then there are three more phases to confirm its effectiveness. Which are better than the alternatives and do not cause side effects. Obviously, it is very possible that in circumstances such as the current times, the times will be maximized. But it is practically impossible that there will be a useful and safe vaccine before next year in China. Can coronavirus be cured? We don’t know the answer to this question. But We can prevent it? apart from the personal hygienic measures? Well, we don’t know the answer to that either.
Neither China nor the United States, actually. Because China’s announcement, released late on Tuesday, comes just after the United States announced Sunday that it was ready to start clinical trials of its own coronavirus vaccine. There are currently more than 30 companies, research centers and universities working against the clock to develop a vaccine. And everyone knows that there are many months left before reaching the end of the road. So what’s going on?
Also, read our article on how to spend time during coronavirus outbreak?
How is a vaccine developed?
Despite what we usually see in the epidemic cinema, creating a vaccine is not easy. Unlike ordinary medications, vaccines work by “teaching” the immune system to recognize pathogens and preparing it to attack them. In this case, that means that we need to identify parts of the virus that are stable and characteristic enough that the body can easily identify them.
For cases like the flu, the virus mutates very quickly and the only solution we have is to update the vaccine almost in real-time. infectious agents are slow and stable in other diseases, and vaccines have a very long shelf life. Be that as it may, the “normal” process to develop a normal vaccine can take up to 15 years.
After all, vaccines are products of mass use in healthy populations. Not only must they create immunity to the virus, but they must be free of any unwanted side effects. According to the WHO, only 1 to 2 billion doses are made each year of the influenza A vaccine. Any problem with the vaccine would affect thousands of people and create, in itself, a public health problem.
However, in cases of diseases such as Ebola, SARS or COVID, deadlines are compressed and all technical methods are put in place to create immunity in populations and control epidemic (or pandemic) outbreaks. In this case, we already know that several universities have created genetically modified mice to use in initial tests, and several research groups are testing with similar vaccines or simple approaches. If all goes well, in 12 or 18 months the vaccine will be ready. If everything goes fine.