Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions of people all over the world. Every day, the numbers continue to rise around the world. Just when everything seems to be getting better, another country is forced into lockdown and we’re also now having to deal with the threat of COVID variants (like those found in the UK and Brazil).
With this in mind, you might question where scientists and researchers even start when it comes to finding a vaccination. How do you find a solution to a global pandemic?
Understanding the Virus
Before anything else, scientists need to know how the COVID-19 pandemic attacks the body. Once this is understood, they can then take the first steps towards either reversing the symptoms or preventing the virus from affecting the body.
It’s normal to see comparisons between COVID-19 and the common flu, but the problem with the former is that it goes deeper than normal. Generally speaking, viruses attack healthy cells and then multiply. Eventually, the cells keep making copies of themselves and the body is overcome with this problematic virus.
Another issue with COVID-19 is that some people are asymptomatic. What does this mean? Even though they don’t have any symptoms, they can carry the virus from one person to another. Typically, the cells in the throat and nose are forced to deal with the virus. For this reason, sufferers can lose their sense of smell and taste. Additional symptoms include a high temperature, continuous cough, shortness of breath, and excessive tiredness.
In some cases, the immune system doesn’t have enough to tackle the virus, and this is when it moves down to the lungs. Here, it continues to attack healthy cells and the body struggles to oxygenate the blood.
While this is just a basic explanation of how COVID-19 works, and there are many more intricacies, it’s a good starting point to understand how scientists are working on vaccinations, and those that study medicine at JCU are learning more about modern day pandemics and how they can be isolated and treated in the future. .
Finding a Vaccination
For experts, then, the idea is to create a vaccine that imitates the virus. By doing this, we expose the immune system and essentially show the immune system how to deal with it. Looking at the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine in the United Kingdom as an example, the vaccine uses a weakened version of another virus (one that’s known to cause flu in chimpanzees). After being genetically modified, it works effectively for the human body.
Rather than allowing the virus to spread around the body, the vaccine teaches the immune system to attack it. While all vaccines are slightly different, they have the same aim – to teach the immune system to attack the coronavirus rather than letting it spread around the body with little defence.
There is a slight difference with mRNA vaccines because these help the body to create antigens. Once created, the immune system recognises them and is in a stronger position to fight the virus. With mRNA vaccines, scientists don’t use a virus as a starting point. Therefore, production is often quicker with these forms.
Issues with Vaccinations
You may have seen the progress made towards vaccinations all over the world, but there are still some challenges to face in the time ahead. Firstly, time. In Australia, we’re fortunate enough to have kept the death count from COVID-19 low. Sadly, in February 2021, nearly half a million Americans and 110,000 Brits have lost their lives. Other challenges include storage and transportation since some vaccinations need to be kept at low temperatures.
Luckily, the world has leading minds working on this challenge and there is hope for a bright future after this terrible pandemic!