Is it possible that COVID-19 vaccine will see the light of the day? When?

Will a COVID-19 vaccine become a reality? When will it see the light of the day? When the COVID-19 pandemic started, many high-profile companies offered to make a vaccine for this deadly disease. Efforts started and are appreciated but there are some noteworthy points to consider before one can be sure that the efforts are successful.

COVID-19 vaccine: COVID-19 and the immunological enigma

The pandemic which has rocked the world of today is not a simple one like before. There have been flu pandemics and also SARS AND MERS. All of these were on a large scale and also deadly. But the magnitude of the problem was still less than that of COVID-19. When SARS affected 8000 people in 6-8 months, COVID-19 has caused afflictions of over 7 million people worldwide in a matter of 6 months. Additionally, the death toll due to coronavirus is also markedly more than that due to the previous pandemics.

Coronavirus (Source:BBC)

To add to all the problems, the immunology of coronavirus is still a mystery. The same holds true for dengue virus, SARS, MERS, and to a certain extent of HIV. COVID-19 has been in this world for only 6 months now. Its immunology is ill-understood. It has been seen that people who have a serious infection or die have more antibodies. And on the other hand, people with mild or no symptoms recover without any antibodies in their blood. So what protects the latter group? And why are the antibodies in the people with the grave disease not protective for them?

The antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE)

Sanofi-Pasteur developed the Dengvaxia vaccine for dengue infection prevention. When given to school children in the Philippines, reports came in that vaccinated children were getting a serious infection and dying due to the vaccine. Later, this was attributed to antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE). What is ADE?

Coronavirus (Source: AHA journals)

ADE is the occurrence of a severe infection in people who have antibodies to that particular virus. So their antibodies were not protecting them but were killing them. This observation had led to a pause in the making of vaccines for 21st-century diseases. What is the use of developing a vaccine based on the old principles when instead of saving it is harming the vaccinated person?

The immunology in these diseases has to be studied well before any attempts to make a vaccine and test it on individuals.

More about the problem of vaccines against these new-age diseases

Some lab animals whom scientists administered the experimental SARS vaccines had severe lung inflammation compared to the unvaccinated animals on the subsequent infection. Hence the SARS trial was stopped and we still have no effective vaccine against it. Beate Kampmann, director of the Vaccine Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) states:

“We don’t want to blow the risks out of proportion but nobody can give a 100 percent guarantee that disease enhancement won’t happen. If it does emerge here, it would be a very serious challenge.”

COVID-19 vaccine [Source: CGTN]
Scientists at the Oxford Institute who are studying the COVID-19 candidate vaccine revealed last month that they gave the vaccine to animals and it did not cause immune enhancement in them. But then humans are not macaque monkeys. The real success would be if humans given the vaccine on a large scale do not report any problems!!!

Also, read Coronavirus vaccine-When will it roll out and will it be effective in disease control?

Anthony Fauci of the USA feels that researchers should weigh the benefit-risk of the COVID-19 vaccine. He said:

“So, if for everyone that has enhanced illness, you save a thousand lives, I’ll take that, right?”