NA year after the outbreak began, it was a moment of hope when Margaret Kennan – A 90-year-old grandmother who has lived in Coventry for 60 years – received what she described as an “early birthday present”. She was the first person to receive an approved Covid-19 vaccine and her name will rightfully be recorded in the history books.
This is also a moment to learn about the thousands of scientists and engineers behind the many vaccines that are emerging now, and the many thousands of volunteers who have taken part in clinical trials altruistically. Clinical trials are the way to find out what works and what doesn’t, for both vaccines and treatments, and are essential to our response.
The vaccine approvals are a clear watershed moment in the collective battle against Covid-19 and Vaccines It will eventually provide a path back to normal life. But amid the hype, two important things should be remembered about this breakout.
The first is that while talk of vaccine superiority and racing victory may be a good headline, it does not reflect the path that was taken. For scientists and regulators tasked with discovering and approving vaccines, protecting public health and ensuring efficacy, safety and quality were the guiding principles, not just speed. Moving quickly in science cannot mean cutting things off or compromising experience. In science, the truth is always that the truth will be revealed, so it is important to define it along the way, not after the event.
And this virus was transmitted from one country to another without respecting borders. Likewise, the scientific community is not prevented by human-made limits. The vaccine effort, like the scientific effort on Covid in general, has been truly international.
In January, when the UK began researching suitable candidate vaccines that could be tried, tested and manufactured, it did not go alone. We knew we had to play a role in what quickly became a thriving international effort. A vaccine task force composed of scientists and engineers around the world has worked to identify potentially promising vaccines.
This global perspective extends to distribution. Vaccinations are not vaccines that save lives, and if we cannot give the vaccine to people around the world, including those in The poorest and least developed countriesThis epidemic could continue to create problems for years. Viruses are replication devices, and these viruses will not go away.
Governments realized this at an early stage, and put their money in place to prevent vaccines from being monopolized by countries with wealth to get the lion’s share. The United Kingdom was a driving force in helping to form the international coalition – named Kovacs To ensure equitable access to vaccines for poor and middle-income countries, and pledged to support them up to £ 571 million.
The alliance has grown and now includes 180 countries with bold plans to develop and distribute one billion doses of vaccines by the end of 2021. This should remain a priority.
If the first notable part of this breakthrough is its universal nature, then the second is the technology that made it possible. While we take the countless ways in which technological advances have changed the way we work, shop, learn and travel, there has been a quiet revolution in biotechnology, including vaccine technology.
Viruses are bundles of genetic material, surrounded by a protein in a Trojan horse that can hijack the body to achieve its own goals. Edward Jenner Vaccine Use a mild virus (cowpox) to stimulate the immune response to a deadly virus (smallpox). Conventional vaccines have used inactivated copies of the virus, and now more commonly, synthetic viral proteins that stimulate the immune system to produce a response that protects against the real thing. It’s a tried and tested method, but it takes time, often years. And many vaccine projects fail. These traditional methods will remain a very important part of our weapon collection.
BioNTech, the German partner of Pfizer, has made great progress with a different approach. She uses her technology RNA Messenger (mRNA) that contains the genetic sequence of a viral protein. When injected into a muscle, the cells in the muscle use their own molecular machines to make a copy of the viral protein. This protein is then recognized as “foreign” by the immune system, which generates an antibody response (and possibly other cellular immune effects).
Why is this so exciting as an approach? It is fast and potentially applicable to other viruses. Once the virus’s genetic sequence is known, mRNA can be made in a matter of days, and several options can be tested. This does not mean that there will be a vaccine in a matter of days, but a suitable starting point can be in place very quickly indeed. Now we know that this approach produces a good immune response and disease protection, and that sounds like a great technique for preparing for any future viral diseases.
While this initial laboratory stage may start off quickly, before any filter goes from the lab to the knockout, it is placed in the sap. It remains a time-consuming process, as each stage is designed to exclude candidates who are not providing the correct response or those with safety concerns. Then clinical trials begin, designed to test tolerance, examine the immune response, and finally to understand whether the vaccine reduces disease and has an acceptable safety profile.
We are entering a new phase of the pandemic, one that will be fundamentally different because of the promise that vaccines hold. And while every person who gets vaccinated is one small step back toward normalcy, it is imperative that we stay clear and realize that we are not out of the woods yet. Vaccines will need to be given to millions of people to protect the vulnerable from severe disease, and we hope to reduce transmission of the virus, but we don’t know for sure yet. It will take time to find out everything we need to know, and vaccination will take time to reach levels at which we can start lowering our guard.
Let’s celebrate the scientific achievement, let us be happy that new vaccine technologies will change expectations for future infectious diseases, let us realize the international nature of cooperation in science and medicine, but let us not ignore the gains we have made by allowing the virus to spread while we wait for the vaccination to take effect. Continuing to follow the rules and avoid spreading the virus will be essential, otherwise this virus will simply bounce back.
Sir Patrick Vallance is Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government
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