COVID-19: What are the options against the virus besides the development of a vaccine?
The world is pinning its hope on COVID-19 vaccine to tackle the deadly virus. But there are a number of technical, safety, and administrative issues before the vaccine can be developed and used. It does seem rare indeed that an effective and safe vaccine against coronavirus would be ready by this year end. So is all hope against the virus finished? There are some other alternatives researched into which need less patients and time to prove their efficacy and safety.
Current status of coronavirus vaccine
The immune response to coronavirus is unpredicable. Some have no antibodies and others have it in varying amounts. Besides, these may not protect the individual from a second infection. With this incomplete information about immunity and COVID-19, vaccine development is technically difficult. Its efficacy would remain doubtful. Also, with previous experience of vaccines in cases of other viral infections such as dengue, safety is also a big matter of concern.
More than 100 vaccines against COVID-19 are in different phases of development. Primate studies show that it does not prevent nasal infections but does prevent spread to lungs. But human trials are yet to start. Besides, side-effects of the vaccine adjuvants in tested individuals is to be seen. The extremes of age might show a different response to the vaccine.
Another easier and less time-consuming option is research on antiviral drugs. Theoretically, it can treat new infections and prevent spread to others. It could be a bridge between no treatment now and a vaccine later on. The drugs currently under trial are those that prevent viral replication. These act on vital enzymes of the virus such as polymerases or proteases.
One study last month published in Science revealed that scientists have discovered two new drug candidates that target SARS-CoV-2 protease. Chemical 11a seems to hold more promise and will soon be tested in humans.
Monoclonal antibodies and COVID-19
These specific antibodies are produced in the laboratory and block the adhesion of viral spike proteins to the host cell. Therefore, the infection can be prevented from happening in the first place. Another study in Science magazine also states that two antibodies which seem to be effective and safe has been discovered. These acted on different parts of the spike protein. Thus together they could have a synergistic effect against the deadly virus.
Another double antibody cocktail will be tested on 2000 people in the USA. It can prevent and treat people. Time will tell whether the antibodies could also eradicate virus from the nose and lungs.
The antivirals and monoclonal antibodies would also have to go through rigorous trials but the time and number of patients it requires would be less. So these two could come earlier than the vaccine.
Click to read more on Is it possible that COVID-19 vaccine will see the light of the day? When?
But until then, we have to continue with quarantine, social distancing, hand hygiene, and face masks for our own safety and also that of the others.