It’s uncertain whether researchers can find a safe and effective vaccine against the novel coronavirus. But recent developments have raised hopes.
- Accelerated research involves parallel efforts worldwide.
The drive to find a COVID-19 vaccine is prompting researchers worldwide to conduct various experiments simultaneously rather than one-at-a-time, which is the traditional approach. As The Washington Post recently put it, “scientific steps that typically take place sequentially over years — animal testing, toxicology studies, laboratory experiments, massive human trials, plans to ramp up production — are now moving in fast-forward and in parallel.” The Post reports that with “at least 115 vaccine projects at companies and research labs, the science is hurtling forward so fast and bending so many rules about how the process usually works that even veteran vaccine developers do not know what to expect.”
- Animal research suggests COVID-19 survivors may gain immunity.
Human survivors of some viruses, but not all, gain immunity against repeat infections. The case with COVID-19 is not yet clear. But Boston researchers found that nine rhesus macaque monkeys, after recovering from COVID-19, developed natural protective immunity against re-infection with the virus. Scientists need more time to determine whether humans will also gain immunity. If they do, it could help develop an effective vaccine and bring about “herd immunity” to tame the pandemic.
- The U.S. is pouring $1.2 billion into vaccine research in Britain.
The federal government is contributing $1.2 billion to British drugmaker AstraZeneca’s push for a new vaccine. The project, led by researchers at Oxford University, is in the human-trial stage. The researchers’ best-case scenario “sees an efficacy result from a Phase 3 study by the fall, while initial signs of whether it is successful are expected by July,” MarketWatch reports.
- A vaccine using mRNA virus may show promise.
Massachusetts-based drug manufacturer Moderna says early tests of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine on humans show that it “appears to be safe and able to stimulate an immune response against the infection.” The firm’s technology, involving genetic material from the virus mRNA, is relatively new. Many more tests will be needed to determine whether the vaccine is effective and safe enough for widespread use.
- A Chinese trial vaccine also shows early promise.
Chinese researchers are testing another experimental vaccine on 108 healthy adults in Wuhan, where the pandemic began. Their research, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, says the volunteers tolerated the vaccine well and it spurred immune responses 28 days after vaccination. The “adenovirus type-5 vectored vaccine” is made by CanSino Biologics.