How far with efforts to discover COVID-19 vaccine?

All hopes are being pinned on developing a vaccine against a virus that is bringing the world almost to a standstill.

The coronavirus pandemic has been so far contracted by more than 1.2 million people around the world and claimed over 65,000 lives.

Rwanda has so far 102 COVID-19 confirmed cases and 4 recoveries.

Since the pandemic broke out late last year, efforts to develop a vaccine have been persistent.

Companies and institutions have started and actually progressed.

In total, the World Health Organisation lists 41 research groups and pharmaceutical companies that are currently racing to create such a vaccine, some of which already have candidates they have been testing in animals. The first of these will enter human trials imminently.

How long will the vaccine take?

Experts warn that the race to find coronavirus vaccine will take 12 – 18 months.

Clinical trials usually take place in three phases. The first involves healthy volunteers, tests the vaccine for safety, monitoring for effects. The second involves several hundred people, usually in a part of the world affected by the disease, looks at how effective the vaccine is, and the third does the same in several thousand people.

There is likely to be a high level of attrition as experimental vaccines undertake these rounds, but any proven safe and effective could hit the market around this time next year.

Who is developing the vaccine?

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator for developing therapies and medicine to treat COVID-19 earlier in March.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla joined in and contributed $25 million. The accelerator started with $120 million in seed capital.

Medical and academic institutions are also investing in developing the vaccine. Among them is Moderna US, a biotech based in Cambridge that maybe the early frontrunner in getting its test-vaccine to humans.

Prominent institutes such as Oxford University, Imperial College London, Johnson & Johnson in UK and USA, BioNTech in Germany, CanSino Biologics in China and Migal Galilee Research Institute in Israel are involved.

How do vaccines work?

All vaccines present part or all of the pathogens to the human immune system, usually in the form of an injection and at a low dose, to prompt the system to produce antibodies to the pathogen. Antibodies are technically immunity, having been elicited once, can be quickly mobilized again if the person is exposed to the virus in its natural form.

Traditionally, immunization has been achieved using live, weakened forms of the virus, or part or whole of the virus once it has been inactivated by heat or chemicals.

This article was first published at The New Times