In the history of medicine, it has never taken less than several years to produce a vaccination for any infectious disease. However, the initial Covid vaccination is already being tested in volunteers and is expected to roll out in December 2020, only one year from the start of the disease.
After Covid was detected in December 2019, the genetic sequence of the virus was rapidly decoded by January 2020, only one month after the infections had started. The search for a vaccination then began.
So far, a total of $8 billion dollars has been spent on the development of a vaccine, involving 80 companies in 19 countries.
Vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna both rely on a technology never before used in a commercial vaccine. The new vaccination utilizes messenger RNA technology.
What is messenger RNA (mRNA)? Our body has DNA present in every cell. Our DNA is the “blueprint” for every protein that is created in our body. Messenger RNA “reads” the blueprint and transcribes new proteins. This is how our cells typically build, repair, and maintain our body. After the messenger RNA reads our DNA, a new protein is strung together in our cells using amino acids.
So how does the vaccine use messenger RNA? The Covid mRNA vaccine contains the recipe for certain proteins that help the Covid virus infect our cells. Once the vaccination is injected, the cells use the mRNA as a template to make viral proteins that are similar to the Covid infection. This triggers our immune system and leads to the production of antibodies against the disease.
Then, when a person gets exposed to Covid, the body now has antibodies that will recognize the proteins from the virus and fight it off, destroying the virus before it can cause illness.
In clinical trials, the mRNA vaccines caused temporary side effects in 80-90% of trial participants, but they were typically mild such as sore arms or feeling poorly for a day or two. No one in the studies became seriously ill.
The third major company developing a vaccine is Astra Zeneca. Astra Zeneca worked with researchers at Oxford to build a vaccine using a type of virus called an adenovirus. They genetically altered the adenovirus so that it carries a gene for a coronavirus protein, to cause the human body to develop antibodies to Covid. Side effects have included fever, headache, and injection site pain. Recently one study participant had a more severe reaction and the study is on hold.
The vaccines to date have been found to be 90-95% effective in preventing Covid. So far, almost 90,000 volunteers have received the vaccine. To produce “herd immunity” and keep our population overall from getting ill, 70% of our population will need to get the vaccine. Currently 59% of people polled say they plan to be vaccinated.