What About Vaccines?
Vaccines Are Coming, But . . .
There is no doubt that the ideal best weapon is a vaccine, and based on recent experience with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), the outstanding results of the Phase 1/2/3 trials for the vaccines approved thus far, good reason to believe that they will be effective. Vaccines have consequently received the lion’s share of the funding and media spotlight. There are over 150 separate efforts to develop vaccines against COVID 19, with dozens of efforts are well advanced.
If you would like to learn more about vaccines, as well as the status of trials and their progress to market, we recommend the following excellent resources:
However, there are a number of factors that make vaccines problematic and not likely to be a “silver bullet” in the war on COVID 19.
Time - and the Risks of Rushing
Before release, vaccines must demonstrate relevant immune responses in human volunteers, absence of unwanted side effects and be shown to be able to protect humans from disease. Clinical trials of vaccines are going well, but we are still looking at December and roll-out in Q1 as a best case scenario.
The history of vaccine development tells us that proving safety and efficacy – critical to avoiding a catastrophic mistake – could take far longer. Because vaccines are by definition given en masse to a healthy population, even a very small percentages of unforeseen negative side effects can result in not only deaths, but a loss of confidence that can be even more catastrophic to public health. Sadly, a recent example of this happened only a few years ago with the Dengue vaccine rolled out in the Philippines:
Higher Risks and Lower Efficacy for the Vulnerable Groups
Vaccines are also often less effective and pose higher risks to the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions which degrade their immune systems. Sadly, these are the groups that are most vulnerable to severe disease and death from COVID 19. Vaccines by their nature depend on stimulating an immune response. If a person’s immune system is weakened, that response will be weak. For these groups, therefore, antibody-based drugs can be a critical supplemental tool to enhance protection and bolster immunity
Variable Strains and Mutations
All research thus far indicates that COVID 19, like its sibling the Common Cold, and cousin the seasonal Flu, has many different strains and ongoing mutation. We should expect that vaccine development will be a constant cycle to keep up with these changes, and the possibility is always out there for unpredictable change in rate or degree of mutation that could significantly change the lethality of the virus. Indeed, history indicated that this is likely over the course of time.
While vaccines can and are adapted to the evolving strains of viruses, the long time frame to safely develop and test them makes them less than perfectly effective. Indeed, the Flu vaccine that most Americans take is generally only about 50% effective in preventing infection. This is better than nothing, and the vaccine generally helps improve response and reduce severity of the disease for those who receive it. But it is no silver bullet.
Fear and Misinformation
Sadly, in recent decades and years, more and more Americans – and people all over the world – have forgotten the terrible toll that infectious diseases have taken on societies and civilizations. Millions of lives have been taken by scourges such as polio, hepatitis, typhoid, yellow fever, smallpox, diphtheria, rabies
The power of the Internet to amplify misinformation, false rumors and conspiracy theories have resulted in increasing popular fears and resistance to vaccines. Recent polls indicate that 1-in-3 Americans will refuse to get vaccinated when a COVID 19 vaccine becomes available!
Antibodies Can Fill the Gap - Now and Forever
With rising infection rates, and our economy crippled, we need an interim strategy to safely open up our schools — protecting students and teachers — and businesses — protecting all workers — until a vaccine is proven safe and can be distributed nationwide.
The main reason that antibody-based drugs are going to be available much sooner than vaccines is because they are inherently safer, less complex, and more rapid to develop. Unlike vaccines:
- These drugs do not use weakened viruses, or parts of viruses – which creates risks that need to be tested at scale and over time to be fully understood and avoided.
- Instead, they are bolstering the immune system directly with antibodies that have already been successful in fighting the virus in other people.
- They are based on the same principles as convalescent plasma and immunoglobulin that have been used successfully and safely for immunoprevention and therapy for over 100 years.
Every day we can’t safely re-open America, we will lose thousands of more people to economic desperation, healthcare neglect and the other side effects of this terrible epidemic.
Finally, most experts now predict that based on the global reach and characteristics of COVID 19, this virus is here to stay.
The coronavirus is simply too widespread and too transmissible. The most likely scenario, experts say, is that the pandemic ends at some point — because enough people have been either infected or vaccinated — but the virus continues to circulate in lower levels around the globe. Cases will wax and wane over time. Outbreaks will pop up here and there. Even when a much-anticipated vaccine arrives, it is likely to only suppress but never completely eradicate the virus. (For context, consider that vaccines exist for more than a dozen human viruses but only one, smallpox, has ever been eradicated from the planet, and that took 15 years of immense global coordination.) We will probably be living with this virus for the rest of our lives.
Given this reality, a robust tool set of antibody-based drugs that can be rapidly updated and adapting to this shifting enemy will be a crucial permanent part of an effective strategy for protecting health and preventing disruption from COVID 19.