Corona times is what I am calling this state of existence. Human emotions are at an extreme high. There are so many things up in the air. There is an immense amount of loss and grievance. It's just such a weird time and everyday doesn’t seem real.
As someone that strongly advocates for the use of correct information and detests the spread of false information; this period of time has highlighted the importance of science communication and a clear need for everyone to understand their bodys to some extent. There needs to be constant dialogue between the science world and the general public. The lack of trust pushes false messages and makes it incredibly difficult to change people's minds once these false narratives are out there.
In today's post i just want to talk a little about Vaccinations
Disclaimer: I am just a medical physiology graduate and do not work directly with vaccines but have a clear enough understanding to point you towards sources and where my knowledge lacks references are there for the doubters !
Vaccination is already an incredibly touchy subject and this isn't something I have been quiet about. Something I want people to be very mindful of is the information they take in and does it make sense?
The media doesn’t make it any easier. Just recently when statements like this are made
"It may be provocative. Should we not do this study in Africa where there are no masks, no treatment or intensive care, a little bit like it's been done for certain AIDS studies, where among prostitutes, we try things, because we know that they are highly exposed and don't protect themselves?" said Jean-Paul Mira, head of the intensive care unit at the Cochin Hospital in Paris.
I am not justifying this statement but would like to bring some clarity on updates on current covid-19 vaccination trails and how vaccines are usually developed. It's also worth mentioning that Head of the World Health Organisation- Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is completely agaianst and stated that Africa will not be used as a tetsing ground.
This post is lengthy and split into three parts
How do vaccines generally work
Covid-19 specific updates
How are vaccine trials usually conducted
How do vaccines work?
What is a vaccine?
Vaccines are designed to induce a protective immune response against a targeted illness ( e.g covid-19) without risk of getting the disease and its potential symptoms.
Exposure - Innate Immunity - Adaptive Immunity - Vaccines
In normal disease progression without a vaccine, when you are exposed to the disease/ infection your body will naturally try and fight it off ( this is known as the immune response/ innate response). This immune response allows your body to produce what it needs to fight against the infection. This type of response is usually one-off and just there to protect you. It is not specific and will do this for anything new / foreign that seems like a threat to your body.
Later on in your infection, you can think of it like your body now has time to now think of a specific response, to the specific thing that is forgeign and starts building up a team to respond to this infection. This is called adaptive immunity.
The adaptive immune response now holds a memory bank against this specific thing that was making you ill, and hence the next time you are exposed to this disease your body already knows how to fight it off and you don’t have to go through all the symptoms that comes with exposure.
This adaptive immune response leads to the body remembering what to do when exposed and this is what vaccines aim to do.
Why take vaccines?
Vaccines are taken to prevent yourself from the adverse effects of a possible infection. A healthy individual taking a vaccine helps limit the spread of disease and protecet the select numbers of a population that may not be suitable to take the vaccine.
How to settle your doubts when taking vaccines?
Vaccines are not 100% guaranteed to protect you against infection after exposure to the disease but most times they do work. You do have a select number of people that have adverse reactions and are then put off by taking vaccines. Vaccines therefore come with their risks as with most medications or procedures that involve the highly complex human body.
If in doubt - educate and find trusted healthcare professionals that can guide your reading and clear any questions you may have. Look at the evidence of vaccine use and make an educated judgement on what you want for your body or child's body.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) follows the appearance of previous coronaviruses that have had lethal implications in the past but not on such as scale as covid-19
Currently there are no available vaccines but treatments are in place that are proving successful due to the amazing survival rate. The difficulty with this virus is that there are a lot of at risk individuals that if infected will make treatment difficult due to underlying conditions.
There have been talks of an experimental vaccine being trialed, with a lady in the US being one of the first reported people to recieve it outside China.
How are vaccine trials conducted?
There are many stages in vaccine development before they are safe for human consumption. There are several unseen stages. Understanding of a diseases molecular mechanisms, identifying the populations that need it most and animal trials are all important steps.
The most relevant for anyone wanting to learn more about the process is " how long does it take to be safe for human consumption"
Most clinical trials are done in healthy individuals and a select few target the actual population that need protetction( i.e those that need the vaccine). Vaccines are also usually trialed in younger children as they are most in need of protection for later on in life.
For common vaccines such as measles and polio, they are given once in childhood and to my knowlege new vaccines have not been devloped. For other vaccines such as the flu, these are produced more regularly due to the constant changes in the way the virus presents itself.
The difficulty with flu viruses is that each time an individual is exposed the body has to go through the previously mentioned innate and then adaptive immunity processes again, hence the need for new vaccines regulalrly.
In the context of Covid-19 vaccination trials there has been debate on what type of human trials should take place (nature)
1. The typical phase 3 study
This usually ensures that the possible vaccines actually work using thousands of people and splitting them into two groups. One group usually gets the vaccine and the other doesn't. These groups are then monitored and comapared to see the differences between vaccinnated and non-vaccinated groups.
2. A human challenge study
This is proposed to involve a much smaller group of healthy individuals who will all recieve the vaccine before being exposed to the virus and observe those that get infected. This is to quickly get results and test the potential of proposed vaccine.
For more detail on the comparisons and potential ethical questions, read the paper here
From the outside looking in, although the coronavirus is not new to the scientific community the mission to make a vaccine in this short time is challenging. The devlopment of the covid-19 vaccine would be a major breakthrough in science that will lead to new frameworks and innovative ideas coming forward due to uniqeness of this situation.
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