A Look into the Development of Covid-19 Vaccines

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Published 07 March 2021

Vaccines have finally arrived almost a year after the first community quarantine was declared. So how much closer are we to returning to “normal” times? Let’s take a look at what exactly vaccines are, why we need them, and how we can expect distribution in the Philippines. 

A typical vaccine contains weakened or inactive parts of a particular organism in a virus that will trigger an immune response in the body, which will strengthen our body’s defense against that certain virus.[1] In the race to find a vaccine for Covid-19, there have been different forms of vaccine candidates—vaccines that use a whole virus, parts of the virus, or even just the genetic material that provides the instructions for making specific proteins.[2] 

So what exactly is the reason for vaccination? Even though vaccines can protect people against the targeted disease, not everyone can be vaccinated, like those that are immuno-compromised and those that are allergic to the components of the vaccine.[1] However, the chances of these people being protected rise if they live among others that are vaccinated since the pathogen will not be able to circulate. The concept of herd immunity aims to vaccinate the majority of the population so that it reduces the risk of being exposed for the people not able to receive the vaccine.[1] Thus, vaccinating protects yourself against the virus, but also those that are unable to be vaccinated. 

Of course, the development of Covid-19 vaccines is nothing short of revolutionary, whereas previous vaccines took years, a Covid-19 vaccine became available within 10 months.[3] This table shows a summary of the different vaccine-preventable diseases, the year these pathogens were discovered, and the year the respective vaccines became available. 

Pathogens-discovered-vaccines-developed

Since the development of the vaccine was done in a record time, does that mean the vaccine was rushed? Does that make the vaccine unsafe?  

Let’s stop the misinformation with reasons for the rapid development of the vaccine. First, since Covid-19 is easily transmissible, clinical trials are able to reach the required number of cases faster, thus, it becomes a priority to study and there is also more data to pool from for vaccine efficacy.[3] Next, as Covid-19 is not the first of its kind to exist, we have access to scientific data from other coronaviruses. And with a worldwide goal of finding a way to stop the virus, researchers in China were able to study and sequence the virus and share the data globally by January 2020.[3] Of course, there has also been unprecedented funding for vaccine research that allows labs to put all their resources into developing a vaccine. As we are in the 21st Century, advancements in science and technology have also played a significant role, especially with the evolution that genetic technology brings.[3] 

All vaccines, including the Covid-19 vaccines, must have findings checked and verified by independent labs. There are three phases to study how the vaccine works: studying it in a general group, testing its safety and ability to generate an immune response on an individual, and determining how it works in a large group of people.[4] When results of clinical trials are available, there are still a series of reviewing its safety and efficacy with each country analyzing and studying the data to decide on its authorization.[4] So a vaccine is constantly reviewed by professionals to be determined safe and effective before it is introduced and used on a national scale. 

 Now that vaccines exist, how will this change our current situation in the Philippines? The Philippine government is in talks to secure vaccines from 7 companies: Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax, Sinovac, Gamaleya, and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen Pharmaceutica), but actual delivery and use will depend on details agreed upon by supply deals.[5] Various LGUs have been simulating exercises to rehearse the storing, transporting, and distributing of vaccines. The first 117,000 doses of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine arrived in mid-February, with the priority going towards health workers, older people, persons with underlying conditions, and other essential workers.[6] The Philippines aims to vaccinate up to 70 million people within this year in order to achieve herd immunity.[6] 

ERRATUM: The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines should have arrived by mid-February but got delayed “due to the absence of an indemnification agreement”.[7]

Rest assured, in due time, we will be able to gain back a certain degree of normalcy. As science and technology continue to grow, we must continue to trust the facts and professionals, not some random post on social media. Remember to remain vigilant against vaccine misinformation and fact check through official sources and professionals.

References

  1. World Health Organization. How do vaccines work? [Internet] [2020 Dec 8, cited 2021 Feb 23] https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/how-do-vaccines-work
  1. World Health Organization. The different types of COVID-19 vaccines. [Internet] [2021 Jan 12, cited 2021 Feb 23] https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/how-do-vaccines-work
  2. World Health Organization. The different types of COVID-19 vaccines. [Internet] [2021 Jan 12, cited 2021 Feb 23] https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/the-race-for-a-covid-19-vaccine-explained
  3. Sanicas, Melvin. The Diarist.PH. Vaccine development—from 10 years to 10 months—how did that happen?. [Internet] [2021 Feb 5, cited 2021 Feb 23]. Available from: https://www.thediarist.ph/vaccine-development-from-10-years-to-10-months-how-did-that-happen/
  4. World Health Organization. How are vaccines developed? [Internet] [2020 Dec 8, cited 2021 Feb 23] https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/how-are-vaccines-developed  
  5. Tomacruz, Sofia. Rappler. TIMELINE: The Philippines’ 2021 COVID-19 vaccine plan. [Internet] [2021 Feb 4, cited 2021 Feb 23]. Available from: https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/timeline-philippines-2021-covid-19-vaccination-plan
  6. ABS-CBN. Philippines sets 2023 target to finish COVID-19 vaccination rollout. [Internet] [updated Feb 10; cited Feb 23]. Available from: https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/02/10/21/philippines-sets-2023-target-to-finish-covid-19-vaccination-rollout.
  7. ABS-CBN News. Philippines begins COVID-19 vaccination drive [Internet]. ABS-CBN News. ABS-CBN News; 2021 [cited 2021 Mar 10]. Available from: https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/03/01/21/philippines-begins-covid-19-vaccination-drive

Image: Sanicas, Melvin. The Diarist.PH. Vaccine development—from 10 years to 10 months—how did that happen?. [Internet] [2021 Feb 5, cited 2021 Feb 23]. Available from: 

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