The recent COVID-19 outbreak has sent the world—snowballing— into the worst economic crisis since World War II. As we stand to embrace the new normal with confinement measures, border closures and trade restrictions, the explosive growth of the coronavirus has already resulted in over 1.1 million deaths across the globe. With no end in sight, the World Health Organisation has said that a vaccine will realistically only be widely available in the middle on 2021.
COVID-19 is a contagious respiratory disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2. Symptoms range from fever, cough, fatigue to shortness of breath and loss of olfactory sensation. Studies have shown that there is a likelihood of longer-term damage to other organs.
Although the first case of novel coronavirus was reported in December 2019, in Wuhan, China; the World Health Organization only declared the outbreak as a pandemic, “public health emergency of international concern, the highest level of alarm under international law” on 11 March 2020.
In present times, most countries rely on an efficacious vaccine to achieve herd immunity. Herd immunity provides secondary protection from contagion when a large population becomes immune. This, in turn, theoretically diminishes the likelihood of infection in the global population.
Herd immunity is “a dangerous fallacy unsupported by the scientific evidence,” warned an international group of 80 researchers in an open letter published by peer-reviewed journal – The Lancet. “In terms of realistic timelines, we are really not expecting to see widespread vaccination until the middle of next year,” said Margaret Harris, the World Health Organisation spokesperson.
To date, there are nearly 320 candidate vaccines in clinical trials as well as preclinical development. The development of the vaccine comprises 3 stages: Phase I of the clinical trials test the safety and initial dosage requirements in a handful of healthy subjects. While Phase II monitors a larger group to assess immunogenicity, dose levels and any possible ill- effects. In Phase III the candidate vaccine is supplied to thousands of people in different locations.
An even bigger challenge awaits the manufacture of the vaccine – supply chain. Once the vaccine is available it will have to be tracked and transported. The shipment of over 15 billion vial doses will result in a large and complex supply chain. Thus, it is not important when the first person gets the vaccine, but the last.
Vanshika Dhyani – Science Writer