The Virus and the Vaccine

The old-school, the slow and the silver bullet: three options for a vaccine to free the world.

By Annika BlauBen SpraggonJoshua Byrd and Catherine Hanrahan

Story LabUpdated 18 Jun 2020, 5:05amPublished 18 Jun 2020, 4:04am

This publication is quite long and I copied here only a small section towards the end. But I would recommend to go to the above link and have a look at all of it. I say there is a lot of information in it!

I copied the following:

Will we even get a vaccine?

Years later, we still don’t have a vaccine for SARS, MERS or any other coronavirus — although nobody has splashed cash on those like they are now.

Part of the reason it’s so difficult to make a vaccine is because coronaviruses cluster in our noses and throats, which the immune system thinks of more like an external surface of our bodies.

“It’s a bit like trying to get a vaccine to kill a virus on the surface of your skin”, Professor Ian Frazer, who developed the HPV vaccine, says.

And even if you can reach those cells, it can actually make inflammation worse — what’s called “immune enhancement”.

“With other coronaviruses in animals we’ve had trouble,” says infectious diseases expert Professor Peter Collignon from ANU. “SARS infection was enhanced by some vaccines candidates and the same thing may have happened with a few candidates for RSV.”

Truly the opposite of what you want from a vaccine.

Adding to the difficulty, this coronavirus doesn’t infect mice, forcing us to test on ferrets and monkeys instead.

As we saw with the baboons that ran wild in Newtown in February, housing hoards of monkeys is complicated, so you simply can’t run as many tests at once.

Fortunately, scientists genetically modified mice to allow them to be infected during the original SARS pandemic.

A savvy mouse wheeler and dealer froze the sperm of the spliced mice, which has become a hot commodity in 2020.

But it’s quite literally become a rat race to get the mice to research teams in time.

While there seems to be a new team taking a vaccine to trial every week, only a third of vaccine candidates are successful for infectious diseases.

There’s a reason the time “from lab to jab” is also called “the valley of death”.

Scientists are trying to condense a decade-long process to 18 months and there’s no guarantee that will work.

What’s more likely is that the first round will produce some “almost there” vaccines that offer partial immunity, according to Dr Quinn.

“The flu vaccine offers 60-70 per cent protection. But those people who are infected are producing less virus and transmitting to fewer people and disease severity is reduced. So it still reduces the burden on the healthcare system.”

But as Dr Collignon says, “You’re not able to control the disease with partial protection — you’d need to keep doing the additional measures on top.”

From lab to jab

We might think that finding a vaccine that’s safe and effective is the challenge. But that’s just the beginning.

The real bottleneck, says Dr Quinn, will be “building the infrastructure” for billions of doses.

Almost daily, companies are announcing supply deals for their yet to be proven vaccines, like Johnson and Johnson’s “commitment to supply one billion doses” of the vaccine it does not yet have.

Bill Gates has put his hand up to lose “a few billion dollars” building factories for the seven most promising vaccine candidates, estimating that about five of them will go unused. “It’s worth it”, he said.

It’s an expensive gamble that could crash and burn — or revive the global economy.

But who gets those early doses? There’s a risk that vaccine distribution could end up like the fight for ventilators, masks and gloves, somewhat like toilet-paper-gate on the global stage.

The vaccine candidates that first reached human trials emerged from the US, whose foreign policy slogan is “America First”, and Chinese state-run firms.

In what may be an early sign of what’s to come, President Trump blocked a shipment of medical equipment from reaching Germany in March, which the German government called “modern piracy”, before attempting to take over the promising German vaccine firm CureVac.

Meanwhile, China has been showering struggling countries with coronavirus aid, which has been described as “mask diplomacy”.

If a vaccine were to become a “get out of jail free” card for China, how might that play out in distribution?

Governments are still haunted by the swine flu vaccine, which wealthy countries including Australia essentially hoarded. Some 36 million doses ordered by the US but produced in Australia were seized by our government — a scenario that could easily happen again.

Dr Komesaroff hopes we can avoid repeating the HIV crisis, where life-saving drugs were funnelled to “those in New York who could afford it” while in some African countries, the life expectancy halved.

“With HIV, it was easy for wealthy countries to remain comfortable, but if COVID-19 becomes widely disseminated in Africa and Asia, including Indonesia, which is of particular relevance for Australia, there will be risks to the rest of the world.”

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