By Leia Rubinstein
As we enter the tenth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is anxious for a return to normal life. Fortunately, several companies have made significant headway in their coronavirus vaccine development, and plan on being able to distribute them in the near future.
In the United States, the companies Pfizer and Moderna have each developed a vaccine and gone through trials showing their effectiveness. Both of these coronavirus vaccines utilize new gene-based technology involving messenger RNA (mRNA). Traditional vaccines inoculate patients with a weakened or inactive form of the whole virus to produce an immune response, but these new vaccines only use the special spike proteins that are located outside of the virus, which antibodies use to recognize the virus. Scientists were able to identify the specific genetic code that the coronavirus uses to produce these spike proteins. They put this genetic information into RNA, which will be injected into the patient who receives the vaccine. The RNA will then enter the body cells and cause them to produce the coronavirus spike proteins. The spike proteins will be exported from the cell and will prompt the immune system to make antibodies as a defense. These antibodies will remain in the body to fight off the virus if the patient becomes infected at a later date.
Pfizer, who had partnered with Germany’s BioNTech in March of 2020, announced that their vaccine is 95% effective and has no serious safety concerns. In their 44,000 subject trial, 162 out of the 170 subjects who developed coronavirus had received a placebo, and 9 out of the 10 severe coronavirus cases were volunteers who had received a placebo. Minimal side effects were seen: 3.8% of subjects experienced fatigue, 2% reported headaches. This vaccine requires two shots administered three weeks apart. It also must be stored at a very cold temperature of -94 degrees Fahrenheit, requiring special freezers. Once taken out it can only remain in the refrigerator for about five days.
The other vaccine being developed in the U.S. is from Moderna. This vaccine was shown to be 94.1% effective as in the 30,000 person trial, 185 of the 196 subjects who developed COVID-19 had taken the placebo. It is also considered safe, and the only side effects have been some subject reports of headaches, fatigue, or pain around the injection site. The Moderna vaccine also requires 2 injections, one month apart from each other. This vaccine does not require as cold a temperature as the Pfizer vaccine. Rather, it needs to be kept at -4 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about the temperature of a normal freezer. Once taken out it can remain stable in a refrigerator for up to 30 days.
Both of these vaccines are still waiting for FDA approval before they can be administered to the public. Given the urgent need, the FDA plans to do a faster review process than it had done for previous vaccines. However, they ensured that it will still hold the vaccine to the high standards required of any other vaccine.
Judging by the fast progress these companies are making, they are projected to have ready to use vaccines as early as mid-December. However, since both Pfizer and Moderna will only be able to produce limited amounts of their vaccines, the current question becomes of who will receive the vaccine first? Health experts recommend that healthcare workers treating patients with coronavirus be the first to receive the vaccine followed by people at high risk, such as the elderly in nursing homes and prisoners. The general public is not predicted to gain access to a vaccine until the spring or the summer.
Ultimately, as the coronavirus continues to remain rampant throughout the country, it is reassuring to know that scientists and health experts are working hard to develop a vaccine that will end this pandemic. Many people have doubts about the vaccine’s effectiveness, and are wary of the potential side effects a new vaccine can have. Further, people are nervous that these vaccines are going through faster approval processes than previous vaccines have gone through. However, they should recognize the precautions and many trials these companies have gone through to ensure that the vaccine is safe. Currently, about 867 Americans are dying each day. As a country, we are desperate for a vaccine to stop the deadly surge of the coronavirus and return to life as normal, and the administration of these vaccines is the first step in doing so.