Next week, it will be a year since the start of the global vaccination campaign against Covid-19. Before the campaign began, it took a year for vaccines to be proven effective against the virus that causes the disease. A record deadline, which surprised both the general public and experts alike.
To achieve this result, there was a lot of study and work on the part of scientists, as well as billionaire investments by large laboratories and the governments of rich countries. This is because everyone has realized the potential for death, damage to health and impact on the economy from disease, if its spread is not contained.
For decades, vaccination has been recognized as the most effective way to contain the spread of infection until the disease is eradicated, as shown in cases of smallpox and polio.
The United States, for example, invested $5.7 billion in July 2020 in five research programs that sought to develop vaccines against the coronavirus. Some of these projects have achieved results, and fortifying agents are already being used, such as those produced by Pfizer/BioNTech, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), Moderna and Oxford/AstraZeneca. It is still under development, as is the Novavax vaccine.
Germany has bought 23% of Curevac, which is also continuing to develop a vaccine. The G-20 Alliance and the European Union contributed $8 billion to the research. Canada has allocated 11.8% of its annual research budget specifically to the field of innovation against the Corona virus.
Two strategies have been adopted to find an effective vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. One of them was investing in vaccine technologies that were already recognized and proven to be effective. The other was to seek support in the new technologies under development, to combat a virus of which little was known at the beginning of the process.
NS Monitor 7 I contacted the Brazilian Society for Immunization (SBIm) to explain the work of each of the technologies in the vaccines against Covid that are available in Brazil. In an interview, Myra Mora, director of SBIm, explained each immunization agent and made comparisons between vaccines.
First, Mora talked about CoronaVac which uses already known and tested technology. “The virus is cultured and then inactivated, and that whole virus dies, and it’s used with other ingredients to make up the vaccine,” says the specialist.
Inactivation is done with chemicals that destroy the genetic material of the virus and thus prevent its reproduction. The virus becomes unable to cause disease, but retains its ability to bind to and penetrate our cells.
Upon receiving the vaccine, the body recognizes this inactivated virus as something foreign and stimulates the immune system to respond to and defend against the invader. When a vaccinated person is in contact with the virus, their body is already prepared to respond and avoid contamination, neutralizing the coronavirus.
Inactivated (or attenuated) virus technology is one of the most well-known and tested technologies in the field of vaccines. Polio (Salik) and rabies immunizations use this technique. ButanVac, which is being developed in Brazil by the Butantan Institute, also uses this technology.
Another technology, although recent, is already in use, viral vector technology, found in the production of the Fiocruz/Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, in those at Janssen and also at Russia’s Sputnik V. They were developed for diseases that do not respond well to other types of vaccine and as an improvement in existing immunity.
In this technique, instead of using the disease-specific attenuated virus, scientists use another virus, which does not cause disease in humans and is further modified to not reproduce inside our bodies. These viruses are used as “vectors”. They “carry” the vaccine into the cells. Corona virus S protein genes are inserted into the vectors.
Upon entering cells, these coronavirus genes are recognized as invaders and the immune system prepares to fight them. Also in this case, when contact with the Corona virus occurs, the immune system will be ready to neutralize it, preventing its reproduction and, accordingly, the disease.
In addition to the vaccine produced by Vucruz in Brazil to fight Covid, other vaccines that use virus vector technology are influenza and adenovirus vaccines.
Pfizer and Morderna vaccines are examples of another strategy, as a result of investment in hitherto unprecedented technologies in vaccine production. They are manufactured using messenger RNA or mRNA technology.
According to SBIm, in the laboratory, scientists are developing synthetic mRNA, which will teach our organism to manufacture the S protein from Sars-CoV-2, which is responsible for the attachment of the virus to our cells.
“This protein, when identified by our defense cells, will stimulate an immune response, the production of specific antibodies to this protein,” says Myra Mora. So, when a person comes into contact with the disease, with the real virus, the defense cells already recognize the S protein in Sars-Cov-2 and realize that there is already an immune response forming.
It is necessary to clarify that the molecule contains no other information. It is unable to perform any other task and does not penetrate the nucleus of our cells. SBIm adds: “Therefore, it cannot cause Covid-19 or any change in our genome.”
For Mora, the success of mRNA vaccines shows a “new path” in science, and she knows that from now on, other vaccines will emerge much more quickly, precisely because it is now known that this technology works and is so good.”
One example of the potential of messenger RNA vaccines is the research that is currently being conducted by the Moderna Laboratory, in search of an AIDS-immunizing agent. Scientists have been searching for a vaccine against the disease for four decades, but to no avail. In its research, the laboratory uses the same technology as its vaccine against Covid, which is already available in several countries.
In conclusion, we asked the director of SBIm to evaluate the results of vaccines developed against Covid-19, after much study, work and investment, regardless of the technology used. Myra Mora summed it up simply: “Are Covid cases declining? Are hospitalizations declining? Are deaths declining? So, yes, vaccines are effective.”
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