Vaccines, a prick of sustenance or a stab to purgatory? The very premise of a vaccine has been a hotly contested one, with extreme views coming into the limelight. So, what’s all the fuss about? Let’s take a jab at it.
Brain Poke–Did you know bananas and human beings share 50% of their DNA? *in minion voice*“BANANAAAAAAAAAAA”
What are vaccines?
Vaccines are a substance whose purpose is to provoke an immune response from the body; the production of antibodies. What exactly does this mean though? Basically, a vaccine contains a ‘watered down’ form of a bacterium/virus/pathogen or a substance which can mimic the same; tricking the body into assuming that it is under attack. The body will produce antibodies to fight the alleged attacker. So, when the body is actually exposed to said bacterium/virus/pathogen, it is already prepared to neutralise the threat. The body has the answer key even before it sees the question paper. Seems almost like magic, doesn’t it?
Brain Poke – The first vaccine was developed by Edward Jenner in 1790 to be used against smallpox. One of mankind’s greatest scientific accomplishments has been the complete eradication of smallpox from human race.
How are vaccines developed, tested and approved?
The development starts in many ways. Part of a deactivated virus, bacterium, antigen or protein mimicking compound is evaluated.
The concoction will have more ingredients like diluents to ensure the dosage is in correct proportion, surfactants to keep all the ingredients well blended and preservatives to increase its shelf-life.
Once there is evidence to prove the efficacy of a vaccine, initial testing is done on animals whose DNA closely resembles humans, to try and develop an immune response.
Once the animal testing yields good results the testing moves further onto human volunteers.
The testing happens in 3 phases:
Phase I–The vaccine is given to a small group of young, healthy volunteers to determine the immune response time, the correct dosage and the potency. Typically, some 100 volunteers participate in a non-blind study.
Phase II–A more diverse set of volunteers will be tested, typically a few hundred, to ascertain the efficacy in varied age groups, races and sex.
Phase III-This randomized, placebo-controlled and blind study generally involves thousands of people. This trial usually includes monitoring potential side effects in subjects, determining whether the vaccine candidate can help prevent the disease and assessing whether it leads to the production of antibodies against the specific threat. These are conducted across countries and ethnicities, ensuring universal applicability.
§ The results of all three phases are evaluated and put under extreme scrutiny by regulatory bodies. Sometimes double-blind studies are published before the final approval is granted.
§ In exceptional cases, companies can apply for emergency use authorisation, to help kickstart the dissemination of the vaccine.
Brain Poke-Polio cases have decreased by more than 99% since 1988, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), largely due to the administration of the oral vaccine to youngsters. Today, polio is routinely found in only three countries - Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.
Covid – 19, the pestilential pest!
This virus has caused a paradigm shift in the way the world has dealt with pandemics. While SARS, MERS, Ebola and AIDs remained in check, Covid spread like wildfire. The need for a vaccine is now paramount.
Currently there are over 150 vaccines in various stages of development across the world, each trying to solve the most gargantuan challenge mankind has faced. To facilitate the equitable distribution of the approved vaccines, COVAX has been helmed. 172 countries, including India, have since become a part of COVAX, which ensures distribution of vaccines uniformly and by population, irrespective of the financial condition of the country.
Companies like Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford are the top contenders to help stymie the spread and rekindle the global economy. Mass production for various vaccines has been burgeoning for months, ensuring that the current dose demand can be kept up with.
COVISHIED, COVAXIN and Pfizer have all three applied for emergency use approval in India and are likely to be granted their request soon. The usual time frame between development and administration of vaccines is about a decade; but advanced research, computer simulations and a desperate need has led to the decade-long timeline shrinking to just under a year.
Brain poke – There is now a vaccine being administered to women upto the age of 26, to prevent them from contracting cervical cancer.
So, what now?
While the vaccines are still in their nascent stages of administration, we must keep our expectations in check as well. A vaccine developed this quick may have undocumented side effects, it may be the miracle cure we all needed; we just don’t know. You can do your bit, wear your mask, sanitise your hands and hope that the worst is behind us!
We at Finbits are hopeful for a less harsh, more forgiving, gentler and brighter 2021. We strive to work harder to give you more quality content in the year to come. We hope the next year brings fruition to all, faith to all, felicity to all and fulfilment to all. It has been an honour being a part of your routine and seek to continue making an impact with the work we do. Our entire team wishes you and your family a very happy, prosperous and ebullient new year.