Vaccines are a low-cost public health tool for the prevention and control of infectious diseases as well as reducing the burden of disease and death. According to World Health Organization (WHO) global estimates, vaccines save 5 lives every single minute and 7,200 daily.
The COVID-19 outbreak has prompted scientists from around the world to develop over 300 types of vaccines. Many of them are undergoing clinical evaluation; some are in Phase III clinical trials, while a few of them have been approved for emergency use.
However, due to the short development time and novelty of the technologies adopted, there are bound to be many unsolved puzzles that only time will tell. It remains to be seen how these vaccines help to protect individuals and reduce the spread of the pandemic, if at all.
- Will the new vaccines be able to control the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Will the vaccines be able to protect the diverse sections of the human population?
- Long-term efficacy and possible side effects of these vaccines developed in a very short time
- The financial and political problems to vaccinate the entire population of the world
- What kind of protection various vaccines can induce? How long the vaccine-induced protection last, and how frequent the booster injections should be administered to keep the protection fully active?
- Will the vaccine only protect people with the mildest form of COVID-19, or will it also prevent serious complications and reduce mortality?
These are some of the most pertinent questions that need to be answered because often the Phase III trials are designed to test whether the vaccines reduce cases of symptomatic COVID-19, not cases of severe diseases that can lead to death or may require prolonged hospitalization.
These questions become all the more relevant because there is a long list of infectious diseases for which vaccines are only partially effective.
- A fully effective vaccine against tuberculosis has not yet been obtained despite continuing efforts for the past many years even though two billion people, more than a quarter of humanity, are infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis that kills 4,000 people a day.
- There is no effective vaccine for malaria even today despite the fact that over a million people a year, largely children die of malaria and over 250 million new cases of malaria, a parasitic infection transmitted by a mosquito are reported every year
- There is no cost-effective and affordable vaccine against HIV despite the research and development over the past 30 odd years which continues to infect over 35 million people and over 1.6 million people are dying of AIDS. Despite the fact that 2.3 million new HIV infections are reported every year the anti-retroviral drugs currently being administered for blocking the virus are economically out of reach for millions of people in the poorest nations.
- Even today there is the absence of vaccines to control the sudden spread of microbes — viruses, bacteria, protozoa, parasites or infectious diseases like Cholera, Meningitis, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Ebola and Zika
- According to Vaccine Nation, the organizer of the World Vaccine Congress, the list of 10 most important infections with no licensed vaccine includes:
- Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis)
- Hookworm infection
- Respiratory Syncytial Virus
Six of these infections belong to a category known as neglected tropical diseases, or “NTDs,” which disproportionately affect the poorest people living in resource-poor countries.
Each disease is an immunological problem in itself. This makes it difficult to predict if the vaccine will be truly effective. This is so even for COVID-19 a new disease for which studies are going on in laboratories worldwide. SARS-CoV2, the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 is an RNA virus, which has a high mutation rate.
In most cases, recovery from a viral disease depends on the antibodies and lymphocytes in the biological fluids that track down and kill the virus-infected cells.
The critical issues:
Who needs to be vaccinated first is another crucial question that needs to be answered. Vaccinating children could help to ensure that schools do not become hot spots. Pregnant women are another high-risk group since they have a higher risk of being admitted to an intensive care unit and of requiring mechanical ventilation. Will the vaccines also be able to prevent the spread of the disease? Among many other unknowns, there is the question of whether the arrival of vaccines will be able to control the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Apart from this the acceptance or rejection of vaccination by the population will significantly affect the possibility of achieving this crucial goal.
Fast track vaccine evaluation – risk involved
According to Guido Forni & Alberto Mantovani the administration of a new vaccine must always be carefully associated with a rigorous study of its safety. This is particularly important because a vaccine is not a drug for sick people at risk of dying, but a treatment that is given to prevent the risk of falling ill. The race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine is not only justified but necessary. However, the time required to evaluate the dangers and risks that may arise from a new vaccine must be included in its development.
Production and ethical issues
The industrial technology needed to produce a billion doses will depend on which kind of vaccine will work best. Initially, it might not be physically possible to make enough vaccines for the world’s population, although, various vaccines are already in production without being sure that they will be registered and distributed. Besides, political and economic constraints may limit vaccine access to the country that produces it or to the countries that can afford to pay for it. The need of the hour is for a fair distribution of the vaccine to all the nations of the world.
The pandemic has prompted many scientists around the world to design possible alternative COVID-19 vaccines. Thus, in addition to the official projects enlisted by WHO, a number of university laboratories and small biotech firms have jumped into the fray to develop their own vaccines. The enthusiasm to develop alternate anti-COVID-19 therapy has given rise to a bio-hacking community of individuals and small organizations working on a shoe-string budget to design low-cost vaccines and testing them, often on themselves. It is free for all treasure-hunt for the open-source Corona vaccine.
Fraudulent Tests, Vaccines and Treatments
The internet these days is full of offers to buy food supplements and products to prevent, mitigate, treat, diagnose or cure COVID-19. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working with vaccine and drug manufacturers, developers, and researchers to take action against people and companies who are trying to profit from this pandemic by selling unproven and illegal products that make false claims, such as being effective against the coronavirus. According to the FDA, fraudulent COVID-19 products can come in many forms and varieties, including dietary supplements, other food products as well as tests, drugs, medical devices, or vaccines. Many of these unauthorized products haven’t yet been fully tested for safety or effectiveness or received FDA approval.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued warning letters to seven companies for selling fraudulent COVID-19 products like teas, essential oils, tinctures and colloidal silver.
According to FDA here are a few tips to identify false or misleading claims:
- Be suspicious of products that claim to treat a wide range of diseases.
- Personal testimonials are no substitute for scientific evidence.
- Few diseases or conditions can be treated quickly, so be suspicious of any therapy claimed as a “quick fix.”
- If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- “Miracle cures,” which claim scientific breakthroughs or contain secret ingredients, are likely a hoax.
Several people in different parts of the world have started protests to openly oppose vaccination. Several opinion polls have indicated that a significant percentage of people in Western countries would be hesitant to take a COVID-19 vaccine even when it is available. The main concern in their minds is that the whole vaccine approval process was too quick and the panicked regulatory bodies did not take adequate time to establish safety and effectiveness.