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A person having a vaccination in their upper arm.

DEVELOPING VACCINES FOR COVID-19: A SUMMARY OF AN OPINION ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN THE NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE

During the Covid-19 pandemic, we often read reports that scientists are developing a vaccine to prevent the disease. In this new article, experts from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) explain the process of developing a vaccine, including why this takes time.

The rapid spread of infections in the past, such as SARS, MERS and Ebola, have demonstrated the need for the world to be ready to quickly develop vaccines during pandemics.  However, developing a vaccine is not usually a quick process; because they will be given to healthy people across the world to protect against a disease, they need to be as safe as possible. To make sure a vaccine is safe, it needs to be tested to ensure any side-effects of the vaccines are minimal, and this process takes time.

The authors of this article talk about new developments that could tackle this challenge in the current COVID-19 pandemic. Their organisation, CEPI, is responsible for preparing vaccines for a pandemic and they have high-tech platforms ready to support the quick development of vaccines.

Vaccines work by imitating a virus or other infectious substance. When we receive a vaccine, our immune system responds to it and learns how to deal with this attack. Our bodies keep the memory of how it fought it off. This means that we are protected it if we face the actual virus in the future.

There is a new type of vaccines being developed. In these vaccines, the artificial infectious substance is not put into the body. Instead, a chemical is given that provides information to the body to produce the infectious substance itself.  Once the substance is present in the body, it works in a similar way to a traditional vaccine. It triggers the immune system to respond to the attack. These new vaccines are known as DNA- and RNA-based vaccines. These vaccines can be made more quickly than traditional vaccines. This means that we may be able to develop vaccines more quickly during the COVID-19 outbreak.

There are several clinical trials investigating these new approaches to a vaccine for COVID-19. These are listed on the World Health Organization (WHO) website, which is updated regularly. Visit: https://www.who.int/ictrp/en/

Read the original paper:

Title: Developing Covid-19 Vaccines at Pandemic Speed

Reference DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp2005630

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