The COVID-19 virus has changed the way the world works and people interact with each other. Researchers are working day and night to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus. It usually takes years to make any vaccines after multiple testing phases, but every country and pharmaceutical company is racing towards introducing a vaccine as soon as possible. Some vaccines are being tested on humans and more are being tested and investigated on animals. There are prospects that we could get the vaccine somewhere between the end of 2020 and the middle of 2021 with Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford/AstraZeneca ready to make their way in market.
There are about six different types of vaccine approaches used by different companies and researchers. All these vaccines are being developed with different formulas and different types of technologies being used in their development. Although the formulas and methods varies, they perform the same task of introducing coronavirus antigen into the human body so that the body develops antibodies against real coronavirus.
- Live Attenuated Virus
This type of virus is a result of the mutation of the original virus to develop a weaker virus that isn’t able to cause any major harm to the human body. When a vaccine developed through this method and technology is injected into the body, it triggers a similar kind of response as against the original virus. It is, however, not recommended for pregnant women.
- Inactive Virus
The vaccine created with an inactive virus is developed by disabling the virus through chemicals, radiation, or heat. The inactive virus, when injected into the body, initiates a strong response from the antibodies developed against the virus. This process doesn’t cause any disease because the inactive virus doesn’t enter cells and replicate.
- Protein Subnit
A protein subnit vaccine is being produced with a piece of the coronavirus antigen to induce a response from the immune system. This piece is usually the protein taken from the virus. It contains small pieces of the virus so it doesn’t cause any harm as it is unable to replicate. When injected into the human body, the immune system produces antibodies as it recognizes that the proteins don’t belong to the body.
- Virus-like Particles
The vaccine produced through the virus-like particles of the coronavirus resembles the coronavirus pathogen in structure. Despite resembling the original virus, virus-like particles vaccine doesn’t contain any genetic material of the original virus which makes it ineffective in causing any harm to the human body when injected.
- RNA Vaccine
This type of vaccine contains a messenger RNA (mRNA) that helps in making the coronavirus protein. This mRNA is injected into the human cell to give instructions to the body to produce antibodies of the virus. These antibodies help the body to fight the coronavirus whenever it enters the body and prevents the person from getting sick.
- Viral Vector Vaccine
Viral vector vaccine contains instructions for the development of coronavirus antigen. The human cell takes these instructions through a harmless virus and produces antibodies. This harmless virus is called the adenovirus. Injection of the viral vector vaccine may cause a common cold but doesn’t cause any serious harm to the human body.
Out of all the major researchers working on the Covid vaccine, Pfizer, Moderna Therapeutics, and the University of Oxford are leading the way with their research on the vaccine and are among the first ones to reach Phase 3 or beyond in research and development.
Pfizer is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, headquartered in New York, and has research and development facilities in different countries around the world. It is working on the coronavirus vaccine in collaboration with the German biotechnology company BioNTech.
Pfizer is the first pharmaceutical company to get emergency approval for the vaccine from the UK, the first from any Western country. It is the quickest any country has approved and authorized the Covid-19 vaccine. The company has also applied for approval in the US but has not yet got approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) so this isn’t yet available in the US.
The vaccine these two have made relies on the genetic material that is injected into human cells. This is developed with the use of messenger RNA (mRNA) of the coronavirus which is injected into the human cell and it gives instructions to the cell to develop proteins that are unique to the virus. The mRNA is destroyed after our body makes the proteins. The human body and immune system then develops antibodies to kill these proteins and develops immunity to any viral attack from the Covid-19 virus in the future.
As the UK government has approved the vaccine developed by Pfizer, they plan to deliver 800,000 doses this week. The first doses will be given to the elderly people in care homes and the care homes staff, health workers, and senior citizens who are over 80 years of age. Two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, with a gap of 21 days, are recommended to everyone. Pfizer and BioNTech have reportedly priced it at $20 per dose.
As the vaccine is the most important weapon to fight the coronavirus, its storage and transportation is equally important and/or termed as challenging because it needs to be stored at extremely low temperature. Pfizer’s needs to be stored at -94 degrees Fahrenheit inside special storage equipment. It can be kept in a refrigerator for only 5 days.
Moderna is working in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health of the US to make the Covid vaccine. The company says that its coronavirus vaccine trial data show that the vaccine is more than 94% effective. It applied for emergency authorization of its vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US on 30th October 2020. The FDA has still not approved the emergency use of it.
Moderna’s vaccine is also developed through the genetic material of the virus. The messenger RNA (mRNA) snippets are injected into human cells for the immune system to respond accordingly. Development of it through the genetic material of the coronavirus is a new technique of making vaccines and has proved to be one of the most effective ones.
By the end of the year, Moderna plans to supply about 20 million vaccine doses to the US. The company has said that they are committed to manufacturing about 500 million to 1 trillion doses in 2021 to supply globally. Countries from around the world have already ordered millions of doses. The US will get a total of 100 million doses, the UK ordered 50 million, and Switzerland and Canada have ordered 4.5 million and 56 million doses respectively. A single dose of the Moderna’s will cost around $25 US, and two doses of the vaccine, four weeks apart, are to be given to each person.
The shelf life of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine is more than that of Pfizer’s. The vaccine can be stored at 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 days. This is the temperature we normally get in a standard refrigerator. At -4 degrees Fahrenheit, this vaccine can be stored for up to six months.
Oxford and AstraZeneca
The University of Oxford, in collaboration with AstraZeneca, is closing in on the development of the Covid vaccine. The interim trial data from the Phase 3 trials of it show that it is effective in providing a higher level of prevention and protection from the Covid-19 virus. The vaccine that Oxford and AstraZeneca are developing is a viral vector vaccine, and have planned to produce a billion doses of the vaccine.
Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and Chief Investigator of the Oxford Vaccine Trial, Professor Andrew Pollard said in a statement, “These findings show that we have an effective vaccine that will save many lives. Excitingly, we have found that one of our dosing regimens maybe around 90% effective and if this regimen is used, more people could be vaccinated with a planned vaccine supply. Today’s announcement is only possible thanks to many volunteers in our trial, and the hard-working and talented team of researchers based around the world.”
The method or technology that Oxford and AstraZeneca have used to develop the vaccine is the viral vector. This method resembles the one used by Pfizer and Moderna, which uses the genetic material of the coronavirus. However, the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines both use mRNA, but Oxford uses DNA instead as their platform for delivering the genetic instructions. Oxford delivers the DNA to cells with the help of another virus known as an adenovirus.
A harmless virus called adenovirus is used to trigger human cells to develop antigens which ignite the manufacturing of antibodies by the human immune system. The development of coronavirus antigens doesn’t cause any serious harm to the human body. According to the Washington Post, a person will need two doses of this Oxford/AstraZeneca, with a gap of a month, to be effective against the coronavirus.
Oxford/AstraZeneca will be available in the US and the country has already made a deal of it. The US and India have both ordered about 500 million doses of this vaccine. These doses will be delivered to the US as soon as the development process is completed and gets approval from the authorities of the country. The price is kept minimum as Oxford and AstraZeneca have committed to providing the vaccine at subsidized rates. It only costs about $3 to $4 per dose.
The bottom line is, whatever type of vaccine is developed and through whichever technology and method, what’s important is the development and availability of the vaccine to everyone. The world has already suffered a lot because of the unfortunate Covid-19 pandemic. A great vaccine is around the corner and the dark days are hopefully over soon with the easy and convenient availability of it.