People on six continents already are getting jabs in the arm as the race for a COVID-19 vaccine enters a defining summer, with even bigger studies poised to prove if any shot really works, and maybe offer a reality check.
Multiple successes, in multiple parts of the world, are vital. “This isn’t a race of who gets there first. This is, get as many approved, safe and effective vaccines as you possibly can,” Fauci said. Vaccine experts say it’s time to set public expectations. Many scientists don’t expect a coronavirus vaccine to be nearly as protective as the measles shot. If the best COVID-19 vaccine is only 50% effective, “that’s still to me a great vaccine,” said Dr Drew Weissman of the University of Pennsylvania.
“We need to start having this conversation now,” so people won’t be surprised, he added. And for all the government promises of stockpiling doses in hopes of starting vaccinations by year’s end, here’s the catch: Even if a shot pans out, and it’s one that your country stockpiled, only some high-risk people, such as essential workers, go to the front of a very long line.
“Will you and I get vaccinated this year? No way,” said Duke University health economist David Ridley. Vaccines train the body to rapidly recognize and fend off an invading germ. About 15 experimental COVID-19 vaccines are in various stages of human studies worldwide. While there’s no guarantee any will pan out, moving three different kinds into final testing offers better odds, especially since scientists don’t yet know just how strong an immune reaction the shots must spark to protect.
Measuring that with the first proven vaccine will “really help us understand for all the other vaccines in development, do they also have a chance?” said Oxford University lead researcher Sarah Gilbert. Only China is pushing out “inactivated” vaccines, made by growing the new coronavirus and killing it. Vaccines by Sinovac Biotech and SinoPharm use that old-fashioned technology, which requires high-security labs to produce but is dependable, the way some flu vaccines are made.
Most other vaccines in the pipeline target not the whole germ but a key piece, the “spike” protein that studs the surface of the coronavirus and helps it invade human cells. Leading candidates use new technologies that make shots faster to produce but haven’t yet been proven in people.
Oxford’s method: Genetically engineer a chimpanzee cold virus so it won’t spread but can carry the gene for that spike protein into just enough cells to trick the immune system that an infection’s brewing. Another vaccine made by the NIH and Moderna Inc simply injects a piece of the coronavirus genetic code that instructs the body to produce harmless spike copies that the immune system learns to recognise. Researchers must test thousands of people not where COVID-19 is surging, because then it’s too late, but where it’s smouldering, Fauci said.