What we know and what not about the COVID-19 vaccine


Science in recent months has entered the television debate overwhelmingly. The figure of the virologist has replaced that of the sociologist and the political scientist, occupying the place of these experts in the famous sofas of the TV programs, from the morning band to the prime time.

In this regard, many seem to count among the very few merits of COVID-19 a renewed public confidence in science and medicine. An enormous result, if you think about the debates of a few years ago, where data (the pillar of correct information) and competence fought an unequal fight against fake news packaged and distributed on a very large scale to the unsuspecting people of the web.

One of the favorite targets of this fight was the vaccine, which returned to the fore thanks to the rise of the no vax people. I talked about it here about the famous vaccine debunking campaign, carried out by Gavi Alliance (the global alliance for vaccines and immunization), a public-private partnership with which Italy has been committed since 2006 and which is the fourth absolute donor after USA, UK and France.

And just Gavi tries to put some order between the scattered and confused news about the new protagonist of the world scene: the vaccine against COVID-19. For the moment, the only thing we know for sure is that the vaccine is needed and once we find it, we can finally sleep soundly.

In the meantime, let’s try to answer some of the questions that crowd the debate: candidates, timing and distribution.

The candidates

Currently there are more than 100 vaccine candidates in trials, 10 of which are already undergoing clinical trials. This process, which would normally take much longer, has been speeded up thanks to the timely identification of the genetic sequence of the virus, made public by China as early as January 12, 2020.

Furthermore, the research carried out on the SARS and MERS-Cov-2 epidemics provided a solid research base from which to start, given the belonging of the COVID-19 virus to the same “family”.

Times and Chinese study

Regarding the times, the possibility of a vaccine is already visible in the autumn. This is what was declared for example by the multinational Astrazeneca which has just concluded the first agreements for the production of at least 400 million doses of the potential anti-COVID-19 vaccine being tested in Oxford in collaboration with the Irbm company from Pomezia.

The rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine has no precedent in history. This was made possible thanks to an acceleration in the methods of creation, such as a revision of an otherwise too long regulatory process and the simultaneous experimentation on animals and humans.

With regard to human experimentation, a recent Chinese study published in the prestigious scientific journal The Lancet has made known the results of the first experiments on men. The study aimed to evaluate the safety, tolerability and immunogenicity (which means the ability to create an immune reaction) of a recombinant type 5 adenovirus (Ad5) vaccine with a part of the COVID-19 virus that expresses spike glycoprotein .

Translated means that the researchers created a new virus, consisting of a harmless virus (adenovirus) and the “piece” of COVID-19 virus that produces the spike protein. The spike protein is the protein that attaches to ACE receptors (most present in the lungs) and allows the COVID-19 virus to circulate in the body. In other words, this protein is the key with which the virus “opens the door” to enter our body.

So when the recombined virus is injected into the patient’s body two things happen. The first is that the spike protein attaches to the receptors, but not having the charge of the virus it does not infect. The second is that the body does not recognize the protein and then starts producing antibodies that prevent the spike protein from “opening the door”.

In essence, the antibodies, by eliminating the entry key of COVID-19 (the spike protein), prevent the virus from entering and infecting the body. Vaccines usually work by inserting an attenuated virus, in this case a recombined virus is used which has the purpose of allowing you to read the virus entry key and block it.

The study found that a vaccine of this type has been immunogenic since day 28, therefore it deserves to be the subject of further studies.

The distribution

Now that the usefulness of vaccines no longer seems to be the subject of debate, the international community agrees that this is the best weapon we have available to defeat what has become the number 1 enemy of all states. Therefore, from the subject of discussion, the vaccine has become the subject of bitter contention: all the countries of the world, scalded by the lesson just learned about PPE, have officially launched in this re-edition of the gold rush.

The recent meeting of the World Health Organization, which ended on Tuesday, attempted to remedy this by voting unanimously for a resolution presented by the European Union on behalf of 140 countries.

In fact, one of the salient points of the agreement was to promote a collaborative and non-predatory attitude, reaffirming the need for “universal, timely and fair access and the equitable distribution of all essential quality, safe technologies and health products. , effective and economic […] needed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a global priority and the urgent removal of unjustified obstacles. ”

And if even the least possibility of collaboration is conceivable among the countries of the first world, the situation of the developing countries is most worrying, which, as often happens in this type of context, comes last.

This situation was further aggravated by the withdrawal of US funds from the World Health Organization, which has always operated effectively in medium and low-income countries, attempting to rebalance relations between the north and south of the world. Therefore, once phase one of the vaccine is passed (research and discovery) it will be necessary to introduce new tools for phase two (distribution) and make sure that phase two is simultaneous in all countries, and not that the most disadvantaged countries have access to it only at a later time.

Another small merit that some attribute to COVID-19 is that of having awakened solidarity and made us better. The vaccine could provide a test case for this. If governments are able to agree and help each other, it means that globalization comes out reinforced by this crisis, showing that not only the evil (the virus) but also the good (the cure) spread at the speed of light .

It would be evidence that reverses the paradox that we were healthy in a sick world, and now thanks to COVID-19, we are sick (until the discovery of the vaccine) in a healthier world. Therefore, it is appropriate to reiterate it once again: everything will be fine, only if it is all right for everyone.

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