While people around the world are getting busy at home doing work at home or maybe getting silly by uploading various videos on tiktok, or perhaps downloading various music on tubidy, our scientists and health workers are working together to put a stop to covid-19.
Scientists today present in the journal EbioMedicine a new candidate vaccine against the new coronavirus that has already infected hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and has killed tens of thousands. The vaccine has already been tested on mice. And researchers hope that it can also be tested among people in the coming months.
The vaccine is now referred to as PittCoVacc, a reference to the University of Pittsburgh where the vaccine was developed. The fact that the scientists can come up with a vaccine there so soon after the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak is due to the work they previously put in to fight the SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV viruses, which 2003 and 2014 hit.
How does it work exactly?
The vaccine contains particles of these proteins. As soon as those viral particles enter the body, the immune system produces antibodies that bind to these proteins and make them harmless. You also produce those antibodies if the virus infects you now, but then it is actually too late. By making sure you already have the antibodies before the virus infects you, the infection can be prevented or at least the virus cleared up quickly.
Testing on Mice
The initial research results with this new vaccine are therefore promising. Mice administered the vaccine produced antibodies targeting SARS-CoV-2. And in quantities that seem large enough to neutralize the virus – if it really affects the mice.
400 small needles
What makes the new vaccine extra special is the way it is administered. This does not happen with a large needle, but with 400 tiny needles. “It is actually a kind of plaster,” says Haagmans. At the bottom of that patch are 400 needles that apply the viral particles in the skin. And you do not feel that. The needles simply dissolve in the skin. This special method of vaccination has not only been developed for people with fear of needles. “If we compare the method of injecting the vaccine into the skin with the traditional method of injecting the vaccine into the muscle, the immunity when the vaccine is applied to the skin seems to last longer in mice, at least.” The immune response also develops quite smoothly.
Fast and long response
“What is important at the moment is that the vaccine elicits a fast immune response,” says Haagmans. “This means that you will see a significant immune system response within a few weeks. In addition, it is important that the immune response lasts for a long time. ” At this time – because the mice received the vaccine not so long ago – it is not entirely clear how long the vaccinated mice remain immune, but based on the number of antibodies the mice have produced, researchers expect the animals to be protected for at least a year to be.
But the virus should not only be effective. It is also very important that it is safe. Follow-up investigations will have to show this. The scientists hope to test their vaccine on humans sometime in the coming months. But we are not there yet. “To test effectiveness and safety among people, you have to set up large-scale studies and that takes time,” says Haagmans. He expects it to take at least another year or more before the vaccine is finished. The big question is of course whether we still need the vaccine. “We don’t know,” says Haagmans. Because the more time passes, the more people get the virus among the members and it is believed that after meeting the virus, corona patients are at least immune to it for some time. But even if the vaccine is only finished when the pandemic is already over, The work of Haagmans and colleagues is anything but futile, he emphasizes. “The expectation is that the virus will continue to circulate. Suppose it comes back next year, such a vaccine may be badly needed again. ”
However, even if this specific vaccine is never actually used, the work will always pay off in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. Because as researchers now build on the experiences and knowledge they have gained with other coronaviruses – such as SARS and MERS -, in the future we may perhaps build on the work that is now being carried out on SARS-CoV-2. Because it is not certain that this is the last pandemic. And that is also the reason that Haagmans and colleagues are also considering new vaccination methods, such as those with the 400 small needles. “This is also a long-term strategy,” emphasizes Haagmans. “We have to keep thinking about new intervention strategies.” Because new viruses continue to pose a threat, as this new corona virus proves once again.