Where Are We on the Journey to a COVID-19 Vaccine?
Venture to the Food and Drug Administration website and you’ll see that the current COVID-19 “Vaccine Status” reads as follows:
Currently, there is no FDA-approved or authorized vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19.
But what does it take to create a vaccine for the American public? Can it really be that hard?
Well, yes, it can.
Here are a few things to know about COVID-19 vaccine research and production.
- Researchers fortunately aren’t starting from scratch.
Because COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus, is related to SARS and other types of coronaviruses, scientists aren’t forced to start the vaccine research completely from scratch — but read on, and you’ll see it still takes time.
- Vaccines typically target one of the proteins of the virus, such as the S-protein.
Most approaches to creating the COVID-19 vaccine involve finding a way to inhibit certain proteins on the virus. For example, some vaccines might stop the S-protein from bonding to human cells and reproducing.
- Possible vaccine challenges include long-term safety, aged population safety and few to no complications.
Creating a vaccine is not easy, and it comes with a host of challenges. These challenges can include the long-term safety of the vaccine — for example, will it cause health issues further down the road? — and short-term side effects, if any. Also important is the safety of the vaccine for the senior population, since generally people over 55 process vaccines with less ease.
- The types of vaccines include live, genetically engineered and inactivated.
There are different kinds of vaccines. A live vaccine uses the weakened form of the same germ to provoke an immune response within the body without a “full-fledged” version of the illness being present — however, these vaccines can be dangerous for immunocompromised individuals. Inactivated vaccines use a dead version of the germ to provoke immunity response – but often must be followed up with “boosters” since they aren’t as strong as live vaccines. Finally, genetically engineered vaccines are the newest kind, and none have been approved so far for human use. As you read this, researchers are working on a genetically engineered COVID-19 vaccine.
- Reasons the created vaccine will take so long to get to you include testing phases, production and distribution.
Feeling impatient to get a COVID-19 shot and get on with how life used to be before March 2020? While we’re all anxious for the vaccine to be released, any potential vaccine goes through quite a lengthy process before medical scientists deem it “the” vaccine for preventing the illness. This process includes multiple testing phases (both on animals and on humans) as well as production and finally distribution. Throw in a lot of extra bureaucratic “red tape,” and you’ll see that patience is necessary.
When will we have the vaccine?
Rumors definitely swirl, and unless you’re doing daily research, you probably have little idea of when a COVID-19 vaccine will be available at your local physician’s office or pharmacy. The finish line is constantly shifting, and what the latest medical reports say in the morning could change by the afternoon.
Your best bet, at the moment you read this, is to understand that you and I likely won’t get vaccinated until well into next year. Even if a vaccine is created by the holiday season, it will have to go through trials and other processes before the public has access to it.
But don’t despair — you can protect yourself and loved ones by following the CDC’s advice for COVID-19 safety.
- Wash your hands and frequently touched surfaces often.
Don’t slack on washing your hands! Cold and flu season is upon us, and hand-washing is still important. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in your car or handbag too. And don’t forget to spritz and clean your phone and countertops.
- Wear a mask in public.
Wearing a mask is about protecting yourself and others, not politics. Wear a cloth mask when you’re in close proximity with others, and don’t forget to launder/replace masks often.
- Maintain social distancing.
Social distancing is still key, even this holiday season when friends and family drop by the house. We’re lucky to live in a climate that is not cold and snowy. Take advantage by hosting gatherings outdoors with plenty of space.
- Manage pre-existing conditions.
If you have chronic kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, or another pre-existing condition, take the best care of yourself possible and manage your symptoms.
- Boost immunity.
Boost your immune system with nutritious foods, lots of water and plenty of rest and downtime, especially during the hectic holidays.
Written by: Denise K. James