COVID-19 vaccine: What’s the 411?

Laura Channell and Stephen Kirby

As we approach the 11th week of the nationwide quarantine, the only thing spreading faster than the virus is news surrounding vaccines and their long-awaited trials. With all the talk about potential immunizations to end COVID-19, there are endless questions surrounding their status. 

In an interview with Hi’s Eye, Carrie Jacovini, a physician’s assistant at the Crozer-Keystone Health System, said all she  knows is that scientists “are progressing towards developing a vaccine at record rates; however, it’s uncertain whether the vaccine will actually work.”

After a fluctuating case toll, COVID-19  has claimed over 100 thousand lives in the U.S. alone. Almost instantly after the country shut down, talks of a vaccine quickly arose, confirming that the race for a COVID-19 cure is well underway. 

In the early weeks of the pandemic, there were headlines that pre-existing malaria medications, hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, were crucial to stopping the virus.  These drugs are one of three medication types turned to during this pandemic, although, as of May 28, they have not been approved by the FDA.

Many people thought that these medications would be the key to stopping the virus, but Dr. Anthony Fauci recently announced that hydroxychloroquine was not effective in treating COVID-19. It is unsure what the U.S. will do about this, but France, Italy, and Belgium have already halted its use to treat the virus.

The other two drugs that were approved for emergency use authorization are antiviral drugs, Remdesivir, and a sedative used for people on ventilators. These medications provide Americans with a sense of optimism. However, they’re just forms of treatment and are not classified as vaccines. 

With the pressure of finding a reliable vaccine within a 12-18 month time frame, loose vaccine plans have started to take effect, as companies such as Moderna announced on May 18 that they would test the safety of their vaccine on eight volunteers. 

Moderna recently had an incident in which four volunteers experienced bad reactions to their vaccine in the trials they were holding. Ian Haydon, 29, one of the four volunteers with a negative but non life threatening initial reaction to the medication, said he had chills within hours of taking his second dose of the medication, and later in the night he woke up nauseous, with aching muscles, and a 103.2 degree fever. 

Haydon stressed that he had been given the highest possible dosage, which was 10x stronger than the others, but he was told that it “will no longer be tested.” Moderna has not made any comments on this topic thus far. 

Merck & Co., a pharmaceutical company based in Kenilworth, NJ, also unveiled plans on May 26 for a vaccine after purchasing an antiviral developed at Emory University. This immunization is labeled as a COVID-19  ‘pill’ and works in a similar manner to Remdesivir. 

This vaccine has been developed based on new mRNA technology that causes cells to make proteins that the body can identify as foreign, leading to a vital defense against the virus. However, even with such testing, the vaccines in question have not been approved for clinical use as of right now. 

In Europe, the University of Oxford arranged three promising phases that were followed by advanced rounds of vaccine testing, with intentions to eventually cater to the rest of the world. Even with a successful track record, scientists discovered that these vaccines are unable to prevent the infection in animals. 

In the near future, there will be plenty of vaccines accompanied by respected trials and experiments about the effects of medication on the spread of the virus. As of now, there is no set or stable vaccine, but as pharmaceutical companies make small strides, the world will have to sit tight and wait.