The Covid-19 virus, officially named SARS-COV-2, has caused millions of deaths around the globe since 2019. While the virus is still under research for a better understanding of its pathogenesis, many vaccines have also been in trial and some approved for inoculation in an effort to control the pandemic that has caused havoc globally. Many global health organizations and pharmaceutical companies are working together in an attempt to provide the world relief from the disasters of Covid-19. But with new emerging strains of the coronavirus, these efforts seem to have a long way to go.
What vaccines are being made?
With many vaccinations still under clinical trials, Oxford AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Gamaleya are some of the companies that have been successful in developing vaccines against the Covid-19. In the preliminary phase, 3 trials the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been found to be 95% against the Coronavirus with the AstraZeneca vaccine being 60-90% and Gamaleya 92% effective.
The development of vaccines is a milestone in an effort to fight the Coronavirus but the importance of precautionary measures such as wearing a mask in public, frequent hand washing, and social distancing can not be ignored.
In December 2020 UK became the first country to approve a vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech which is a collaboration between a US pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, and a German biotechnology company, BioNTech. Pfizer-BioNTech was the first vaccine to publish positive results from clinical trials. It is also the first mRNA virus ever to be approved for use in humans. This approval has made way for mass inoculations of residents of the United Kingdom, especially front line health care workers. After the UK, the Pfizer vaccine also received approval in Canada, Bahrain, Saudia, and the United States.
In December 2020, the FDA approved the emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine in the United States, prioritizing health care workers and the elderly population. Pfizer has agreed to supply 100 million doses to the USA by March and another 200 million doses promised by Moderna which is yet to be approved for clinical use. 2 doses of Pfizer vaccine, 21 days apart are required for full immunity and the vaccine is to be kept at minus 70 degrees temperature in dry ice containers and used within 6 hours after taking it out of storage. Storage of the vaccine at ultra-low temperatures makes its distribution difficult and special containers to be used for this purpose. While the AstraZeneca and Gamaleya vaccines can be stored at regular fridge temperatures making their transportation more feasible. According to the BBC news, India has just started the world’s biggest coronavirus vaccination drive and many other countries are looking forward to beginning vaccinations in the year 2021.
Does the vaccine work?
The vaccines developed against the Coronavirus target spike proteins on the covid RNA virus, and concern is rising about the effectiveness of the developed vaccine as new strains of the virus are seen emerging. These new mutated strains most likely target the spike proteins of coronavirus. Spike proteins are present on the surface of coronavirus and allow the virus to adhere to human cells thereby causing infection. New strains of viruses are formed due to mutations in pre-existing strains and are the inevitable fate of such viral infections. Most researchers consider this surfacing of new mutated strains an expected outcome of a pandemic. As a virus makes its way through a population it keeps mutating and as a result, new variants of the same disease are seen. Little is known whether these mutations would render the newly developed vaccine ineffective or not, but researchers are keen on continuing the vaccination drives no matter what.
New COVID-19 strains
The new strain of coronavirus first to be found in the UK is likely to be more infectious and transmissible than the previous strains. This has caused an alarming rise in the number of cases of Coronavirus in the UK. This new strain of covid-19, named B117 has been found in more than 37 countries after the UK, including various states of the USA. A strict lockdown has been imposed in the UK once again and many countries have banned travel from the United Kingdom in an effort to control the rapidly spreading strain. The new strain has been considered 50-70% more infectious, there has yet been no research to indicate that it is more dangerous or lethal. But being more transmissible, B117 is likely to put more strain on hospitals and healthcare services in the year 2021 as compared to 2020 due to higher rates of patient admission and the need for medical attention. This can be especially alarming for countries with limited resources, ventilators, and other ICU facilities.
Should we worry?
While concern has been shown over the effectiveness of the developed vaccine against B117, and researches are underway, it is most likely that the vaccine will not be completely ineffective. Just as medical experts started researching this new variant B117 another new and more worrisome variant of coronavirus has emerged in South Africa. This new variant named 501.Y.V2 is likely to be even more infectious than B117 but not deadlier in any way. The South African strain of covid-19 has also been found in more than 20 other countries including the UK. And another new strain is seen surfacing in Brazil. A lot is still to be researched but these mutated strains are definitely predicted to put more burden on already burdened healthcare systems globally.
More than 50 Covid-19 vaccinations are under trial and to ensure a rapid response to the covid pandemic World Health Organisation is collaborating with pharmaceutical companies, businesses, and health organizations. The best policy of 2021 would be to promote and ensure covid-19 vaccination drives globally while new mutated strains are researched for a better understanding. Meanwhile, covid-19 SOPs should be followed strictly which include wearing a mask in public, frequent handwashing, social distancing, and limiting social gatherings.