Just over two months after the new coronavirus was reported in China, scientists in Seattle, Washington, have already begun the human testing phase of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the Associated Press reported this week.
Testing on human volunteers begins
On Monday, researchers with the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle administered the first shots of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine to four human volunteers.
“We’re team coronavirus now,” Dr. Lisa Jackson, leader of the Kaiser study, told the AP on Sunday. “Everyone wants to do what they can in this emergency.”
This study involves a potential vaccine developed in coordination by the National Institutes of Health and a Massachusetts-based biotech firm known as Moderna Inc, and will eventually include 45 volunteers receiving two shots one month apart. The volunteers, all of whom are healthy and range in age from 18-55, will be given varying doses and monitored for efficacy and potential side-effects during the trial period.
The candidate vaccine won’t make the volunteers sick as it doesn’t actually contain the new coronavirus it is being formulated to combat, the AP reported. Rather, it uses some of the same genetic codings as the actual virus to mimic it, specifically the “spike” protein that helps the virus attack blood cells, and prepare the immune system to defend against a similar attack by the real virus in the future.
“We don’t know whether this vaccine will induce an immune response, or whether it will be safe. That’s why we’re doing a trial,” Jackson said. “It’s not at the stage where it would be possible or prudent to give it to the general population.”
One of several vaccines in development
While Jackson’s remarks were likely intended to temper expectations about this potential vaccine, there is plenty of excitement surrounding it, particularly given that rapidity with which it was developed over the span of only a few months.
Jackson said it was virtually unprecedented to be “going from not even knowing that this virus was out there … to have any vaccine” in just two months.
While the speed with which this potential vaccine was developed and moved on to testing is promising, it is still expected to take anywhere from 12 to 18 months before it is ready to be mass-produced for the general public, assuming it passes all trial stages, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH and President Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force.
According to the AP, Fauci said that finding a workable vaccine “is an urgent public health priority” and this particular study, which was “launched in record speed, is an important first step toward achieving that goal.”
Hopefully, this potential vaccine will pass all of the tests. If it doesn’t, however, hope is not lost, as there are literally dozens of other companies and partnerships around the globe that are also working furiously to develop a vaccine.
This problem virus will eventually be contained and defeated, sooner or later. In the meantime, check out the CDC guidelines on how to protect yourself from COVID-19.