It’s cold, grey and wet. We’re sheltering behind closed curtains and in front of a fire, either working on spreadsheets, working on school stuff or reading sobering, cautionary correspondence about how we, as the human race, are going to deal with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The widespread opinion has been that we’re in this sticky situation until we can get a vaccine sorted, rolled out and administered to as many people as possible. And that’s the goal.
But there are signs that it’s not going to be quite as simple as Design Vaccine, Mass Produce Vaccine, Immunise World Population. Never mind the clear difficulties inherent in steps 2 and 3: number 1 seems to be proving more problematic than we had hoped.
This BMJ editorial from various UK academics spells out (some of?) the potential problems with any vaccine (and other immunological therapies) for Covid-19
Worldwide, many covid-19 vaccines are at various phases of development…
Understandably, there is great public expectation that these efforts will be successful, but caution is necessary with respect to both vaccines and passive immunity.
Vaccine being poking you with stuff that will make your body produce antibodies against Covid-19, and passive immunity being short-term protection by poking you with ready-made antibodies taken from someone who has had Covid-19.
Both are good ways to prevent people getting any given disease, but there are no guarantees that either of them will be successful against Covid-19.
There are many reasons why they might not work, or why they might not work as well as we would like or need them to:
Vaccines don’t work as well in older people: Covid-19 disproportionately affects older people. So can we make it work in the people that need it most?
The bit of the virus that we are hoping to target with the vaccine might mutate – meaning that even if we make a working vaccine, it might not work for very long.
We’ve never managed to make a vaccine against SARS or MERS – both very similar viruses to this nasty bugger – despite years of trying.
And – it’s complicated – but giving antibodies to patients might not be the best plan either. It’s worked well before with other diseases (even Ebola!), but this isn’t other diseases. In fact, there’s even the risk that – because of the way some cases of Covid-19 progress – giving convalescent serum (the antibodies) to a patient might even make them sicker.
Finding the solutions to these problems isn’t something that you or I can influence, but I just felt that it was worth putting it out there that you should probably abandon those foregone conclusions that science will have this all sorted out by Christmas (or whenever).
Sorry about that.