On the afternoon of Sept. 22, I became a data point in the search for a vaccine to prevent COVID-19.
That’s when I received the first of two shots in a clinical trial to develop a vaccine, and became one of 30,000 volunteers to take a needlestick for science.
Why am I doing it? A combination of altruism, curiosity, and a sense of duty as a journalist. But more on that later.
Aside from the nurse who injected me and the hospital pharmacy that supplied her with the injection, no one else knows whether I received a placebo or the would-be vaccine. Not me. Not even Dr. Bindu Balani, the principal investigator in the trial at Hackensack University Medical Center, one of 89 study sites around the country.
This is called a double-blind study because both the researchers and the participants are blind to what was inside that syringe.
The key to defeating the COVID-19 pandemic may have less to do with vaccine science and logistics and more to do with public trust. Week after week, actions by Trump administration appointees have raised suspicions that political motives rather than science are driving decision-making in the development of the vaccine.
Events like these have shaken my faith — and the faith of many others — in two of the country’s most revered scientific institutions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which collects and analyzes healthcare data, and the Food and Drug Administration, which approves diagnostic tests and treatments.
As a longtime clinical scientist at the National Institutes of Health, I worked closely
Many vaccines include ingredients called adjuvants that help make them more effective by eliciting a stronger immune response. Identifying potential adjuvants just got easier, thanks to an approach described by scientists at Kyoto University’s Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS) and colleagues in the journal Angewandte Chemie.
The team of chemists and biologists in Japan report they found a molecule that, when added to a vaccine, strengthens the immune response just as well as a commonly used adjuvant. Vaccine adjuvants are an essential part of clinically used antigen vaccines, such as influenza, hepatitis and cervical cancer vaccines.
“Adjuvants generate a robust and long-lasting immune response, but the ones currently in use, like aluminium salts and oil-in-water emulsions, were developed in the 1920s and we don’t precisely understand how they work, which is why they are often called ‘immunologists’ dirty little secret,'” says iCeMS chemical biologist Motonari Uesugi, who led
Demonstrators dressed as Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Bill Gates in prison uniforms take part in Unite for Freedom rally in Trafalgar Square to protest against the restrictions imposed by the Government to control the spread of coronavirus, September 26, 2020. Photo via Getty Images.
“Today Berlin is again the front against totalitarianism,” Robert F. Kennedy crowed on a warm and surreal August day in Berlin. The longtime environmental activist turned vaccine critic regarded a crowd of around 38,000 —which he’d previously claimed would number a million or more—and regaled them with dubious claims. Governments “love” pandemics, he assured the crowd, because they’re used to impose tools of global control “that the populace would otherwise never accept.” The COVID-19 pandemic, he claimed, was being used as a cover to get the populace to accept both 5G technology, which Kennedy regards as a tool of the nefarious global surveillance
Even if a coronavirus vaccine is approved soon, it will likely be years until it can be distributed around the world, according to cargo airline and logistics executives.
Challenging storage and shipping requirements, combined with reduced cargo availability and higher demand, are likely to delay distribution, according to a new Wall Street Journal report.
Although cargo airlines are trying to prepare, a host of unknowns — including where the vaccine will be made, how many doses are needed, and how it will need to be stored — means there’s only so much that can be organized in advance.
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Even if a COVID-19 vaccine can be developed, approved, and mass produced quickly, getting it to countries and communities around the world
In the quest to develop shots against Covid-19, researchers have overcome challenges that typically make vaccine projects stretch across years if not decades. Assuming one or more of their experimental vaccines proves safe and effective in late-stage trials — a huge feat in itself — drug companies and health officials will next face a whole new set of obstacles in their effort to deliver the shots widely around the world. Preparations for vaccinating the planet’s 7.8 billion people are already underway.
Getting the Green Light
Typically, a vaccine must show that it works in trials involving thousands of volunteers before regulators consider permitting its use outside of research. While China and Russia are using special regulatory provisions to deploy Covid vaccines before they’ve undergone full testing, nine U.S. and European companies that are in the forefront of the
Australia’s budget forecasts will assume a coronavirus vaccine will be developed in the next year, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says.
“The budget takes into account the possibility that is the case,” Frydenberg told Sky News Australia in a segment from an interview to be broadcast Monday”. “We have factored in those issues related to the vaccine and those will be available on budget night.”
Assuming a vaccine is available in 2021 will be a positive for the economic outlook, as it may signal a return to international travel and foreign tourist spending. Frydenberg is set to
Experts working in the field of vaccine development tend to believe that an effective vaccine is not likely to be available for the general public before the fall of 2021. In a paper published this week in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, a McGill-led team published the results of a recent survey of 28 experts working in vaccinology.
The survey was carried out in late June 2020. The majority of those surveyed were mostly Canadian or American academics with an average of 25 years of experience working in the field.
“Experts in our survey offered forecasts on vaccine development that were generally less optimistic than the timeline of early 2021 offered by US public officials. In general they seem to believe that a publicly available vaccine next summer is the best-case scenario with the possibility that it may take until 2022,” said Jonathan Kimmelman, a James McGill professor
Throughout the pandemic we have seen that a few key simple actions can have a huge potential impact on the spread of the virus. Wear a mask. Stay at least six feet away from others. Wash your hands. These are among the things an individual can do.
Parts of the country where these types of guidelines have been promoted and followed have seen rapid and persistent decreases in cases of the virus. This is because a key variable in the overall progress of the pandemic is transmission.
If one person in a million carries the virus, and they, and others with whom they have come into close contact, are effectively isolated from the rest of the population, the chances of transmission become vanishingly low. However, the key to testing, tracing, and isolation as a primary strategy for ending a pandemic depends upon very early and stringent application.
Vaccines, which help the body recognize infectious microorganisms and stage a stronger and faster response, are made up of proteins that are specific to each type of microorganism. In the case of a virus, viral proteins—or antigens—can sometimes be attached to a protein scaffold to help mimic the shape of the virus and elicit a stronger immune response. Using scaffolds to approximate the natural configuration of the antigen is an emerging approach to vaccine design.
A team of scientists led by David Baker at the University of Washington developed a method to design artificial proteins to serve as a framework for the viral antigens. Their study was published recently in the journal eLife. Berkeley Lab scientists collected data at the Advanced Light Source to visualize the atomic structure and determine the dynamics of the designed scaffolds.
“When bound, the scaffolds assume predicted geometries, which more closely approximate