What You Should Know About COVID-19 Vaccines, Testing and Immunity


What is a coronavirus?

 Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can be found broadly across mammals and birds. They are named after the crownlike spike proteins that surround them. They typically cause limited disease in their host species, but they can occasionally mutate and cross species into humans, causing diseases that range in symptoms and severity.

Why is COVID-19 so infectious?

The spikes in the coronavirus are how the virus attaches to their host cell. The stickier the spike, the more efficient the virus is at infecting and spreading. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has spikes that stick to human cells like Velcro, forming a very strong bond with a receptor called ACE2, which is abundant throughout the human body. These strong bonds mean less SARS-CoV-2 viruses are necessary to start an infection.

What is immunity and how do you test for it?

 Immunity is when the body is able to resist a particular disease. The standard way of testing for immunity to a virus is to look for antibodies to the virus in the blood (serology tests) following infection.

What are antibodies?

Antibodies are proteins in the blood produced in response to an infection. They remain as protection in case the pathogen, an organism that causes disease, invades the body again. They are detectable in the blood approximately five to seven days after symptoms begin to occur, and they are critical to the body's ability to fight off the infectious agent. One of the challenges in identifying immunity to SARS-CoV-2 is that scientists are still working to learn what types and levels of antibodies in the blood are sufficient to protect against reinfection or limit the effects of a second infection by rapidly clearing the virus out of the body.

What is the difference between IgM and IgG antibodies?

 Immunoglobulin M (IgM) is the first antibody that is produced five to seven days after infection. A high prevalence of IgM antibodies versus other types of antibodies suggests an active infection.

Can antibody tests prove COVID-19 immunity?

 There is encouraging evidence that previous exposure to SARS-CoV-2 will provide protection from further infection, but it is too early to say whether individuals who have the disease are immune to reinfection, or how long that protection will last. Since the disease has only been infecting humans for less than a year, it will take more time to answer these questions.

What is a vaccine and how does it work?

A vaccine is a type of medicine designed to protect against infectious diseases by introducing the body’s immune system to a harmful virus or bacteria in a safe way. This allows the immune system to devise strategies to defeat it, typically by generating antibodies to proteins specific to the disease-causing virus or bacteria.

Why is it so hard to develop a vaccine?

 A key challenge in developing vaccines for emerging infectious diseases is that each pathogen uses a different mechanism to infect cells and elicits a different immune response from the body. The majority of vaccines are built from the ground up to address these unique factors and need to undergo rigorous efficacy and safety testing—a process that can typically take up to six years. The majority of vaccines currently being tested and developed rely on previous research addressing other types of infectious diseases.

What are clinical trials and why are they important?

 Clinical trials are scientific studies designed to test the safety and usefulness of new medical interventions such as treatments, devices, preventative care, screening or diagnostic procedures, and more.

There are four phases of clinical trials that each inform decisions made in the next phase:

  • Phase I: Establishing the safety and correct dosage of a treatment
  • Phase II: Investigating the efficacy and side effects of a treatment in patients with the disease
  • Phase III: Further investigation into efficacy and monitoring of adverse side effects
  • Phase IV: Assess the cost-effectiveness and performance of a treatment in real-life scenarios after the treatment has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

What is Mass General doing to develop a treatment or vaccine for COVID-19?

A team from the Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center (VIC) is using a VaxCelerate platform that was designed to quickly develop vaccines in response to emerging infectious diseases to test new vaccine strategies. Mass General is also collaborating with Mass Eye and Ear to test a new gene-therapy based vaccine, and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard is developing a vaccine candidate with support from the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness. 

Mass General was the first center in New England to test Remdesivir, which has shown to reduce the amount of time severely ill COVID-19 patients are in the hospital. Mass General clinician-investigators are also conducting clinical trials to test a variety of treatment strategies for the disease, including antiviral, anti-inflammatory and anti-coagulant drugs.

My only question is how can I develop a vaccine for the coronavirus. So fast but know vaccination for cancer. 

What You Should Know About COVID-19 Vaccines, Testing and Immunity What You Should Know About COVID-19 Vaccines, Testing and Immunity Reviewed by Anson Moore on August 17, 2020 Rating: 5

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