Saturday, September 18, 2021

Domondon: The race to safety

Open Season

EVERYONE seems to be heaving a sigh of relief at the news that, finally, a vaccine or several vaccines are actually already being made available to inoculate the public against the coronavirus disease.

This is a game-changer in the truest sense and if it is proven through actual implementation that these vaccines are indeed effective against the Covid-19 virus, then the people of the world can once again go back to the old normal and daily routine of ordinary life. Of course, at this time, it is still a big IF whether these much-touted vaccines are indeed the real deal as what their manufacturers claim.

But let us learn a little bit more about these vaccines and how they came to be discovered as supposedly potent shields against the virus.

At the moment, three drug manufacturers have seemingly moved heaven and earth to create vaccines against the virus in record time. First up is the pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, in partnership with German biotechnology company BioNTech, which developed their COVID-19mRNA vaccine (BNT162b2) and is, apparently, the first to achieve authorization from Food and Drug Administration regulators for emergency use of their vaccine. The second drug manufacturer to achieve success with its Covid-19 vaccine, mRNA-1273, is the biotechnology firm Moderna, in partnership with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the US. And finally, the third one is AstraZeneca in partnership with the University of Oxford with their ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine.

All of these three drugmakers have shown through their reports of the results of their late-stage clinical trials that their vaccines are 90 to 95 percent effective and, thus, their desire to seek emergency authorization for the use of their vaccines largescale.

While these vaccines are already on the verge of being distributed broadly, and in fact for one of them, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, is already in use vaccinating the citizens of the United Kingdom, there are still concerns regarding the matter of shipping them overseas. This is so because the vaccine of Pfizer/BioNTech must be kept super cold at minus 70 degrees Celsius and once thawed, the undiluted vial can be kept refrigerated for only five days. On the other hand, the Moderna vaccine can be stored frozen at minus 20 degrees Celsius but can be usable at refrigerated temperatures for up to a month. The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, meanwhile, can be stored at refrigeration for up to six months, making it more adaptable for wider distribution and administration around the world.

Now, what about the technologies involved in the discovery of these vaccines? For both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, they utilized messenger RNA technology, where they use a tiny bit of the genetic code of the virus to instruct cells in the body of an individual to build a spike protein, which is found on the surface of the coronavirus, and teaching the immune system to recognize the real thing and, thus, be able to fight it off. The AstraZeneza/Oxford vaccine, meanwhile, uses a benign cold-causing virus to deliver to the cells of the body of an individual the genetic code for the spike protein, allowing the cells to make a replica of the protein and, thus, enabling the immune system to learn and recognize the real virus.

From what we now know, these vaccines will actually attempt to recreate a spike protein found on the surface of the coronavirus—the protein that hooks and attaches itself to the cells of a body allowing the virus to invade the host—which will allow the body’s immune system to recognize the real virus and be able to shield the host from its invasion.

As far as doses are concerned, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be administered twice with the former given three weeks after the first one and the latter four weeks after the initial dose. For the AstraZeneca Vaccine, which also requires two doses, the first one will be half of the typical dose and the second dose will be given a month later.

Here in the Philippines, preparations are already being made to secure available vaccines and, according to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, the country aims to cough up P73.2 billion to pay for the vaccination of 60 million Filipinos. Where will this money come from? Well, the Finance Secretary says it will be sourced from low-cost, long-term loans from various agencies such as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, as well as domestic sources such as local banks and other government corporations, and bilateral sources from countries where vaccines are being developed.

All in all, the race to safety has set everybody in a mad scramble to obtain an effective shield against the Covid-19 virus and be able to live under normal conditions once again.


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