The case for vaccine optimism

Moderna had an exciting announcement earlier this week about some very positive early findings for their mRNA vaccine.  Will this end up being the vaccine that saves us?  Probably not.  But it is nonetheless a good sign that this never-before-proven technique for developing a vaccine has very real possibilities.  And, it really might be this one.  Far more importantly, though, a vaccine will be here next year and it will work.  There’s been a lot of vaccine skepticism out there (“there’s never been a coronavirus vaccine”  “vaccines take years”  “what about HIV”), but the more we learn, the more it is clear that SARS-Cov2 is basically a target-rich environment for a vaccine.  We’ll get there.  And quite likely, sooner rather than later.  NYT with a great summary of the positive science news on this:

In labs around the world, there is now cautious optimism that a coronavirus vaccine, and perhaps more than one, will be ready sometime next year.

Scientists are exploring not just one approach to creating the vaccine, but at least four. So great is the urgency that they are combining trial phases and shortening a process that usually takes years, sometimes more than a decade.

The coronavirus itself has turned out to be clumsy prey, a stable pathogen unlikely to mutate significantly and dodge a vaccine.

“It’s an easier target, which is terrific news,” said Michael Farzan, a virologist at Scripps Research in Jupiter, Fla… [emphasis mine]

Florian Krammer, a virologist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, predicted that at least 20 additional vaccine candidates will make their way into clinical trials in the weeks to come.

“I’m not worried at all about it,” he said of the prospects for a new vaccine.

Many of these vaccines will stumble as the trials progress. As more people are inoculated, some candidates will fail to protect against the virus, and side effects will become more apparent.

But from what scientists are learning about the coronavirus, it ought to be a relatively easy target.

Viruses can challenge vaccine makers by mutating rapidly, changing shape so that antibodies that work on one viral strain fail on another. Thankfully, the new coronavirus seems to be a slow mutator, and a vaccine that proves effective in trials should work anywhere in the world.

It’s quite likely that there will be false starts and some false hope along the way.  But, the science is pretty clear– a vaccine really is coming to save us.  Now, let’s get some super-effective therapeutic before then (monoclonal antibodies, maybe?) and then we’re really talking.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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