This Thursday, Magazine Science pays homage to the effort that has culminated, in less than a year, with vaccines for Covid-19. Deciding what the most important scientific discovery of the year has been requires on other occasions “long meetings” and “a lot of coffee”, acknowledges the director of this scientific publication, H. Holden Thorp, “but this year the decision was clear, the progress had to involve the Covid-19 “, and the confirmation of the high efficacy of the first covid vaccines has put it on a platter.
Typically, development of a vaccine takes several years, but Nor before had there been a collaboration and an economic boost of this magnitude between governments, the pharmaceutical industry, academic and non-governmental entities. On December 31, the authorities of Wuhan (China) reported pneumonia of unknown origin. On January 10, the Chinese team of virologists led by Zhang Yongzhen published the sequencing data for the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, a key step in starting work on the development of a specific vaccine.
Magazine Science reviews the entire course of this development: the bet, already in February, of several pharmaceutical companies and state agencies (basically, in China, the United States and Europe) to obtain a vaccine with different strategies (using the complete inactivated virus, or part of the virus, S protein, with a viral vector, or by nucleic acids); the first data, already in April, in an animal model that supported, with a Chinese inactivated virus candidate, that immunization against the new virus was a possible concept; the beginning of the first phases of the clinical trial; the financial boost (in billions of dollars) from the US government’s Warp Speed program; and finally, in November, the release of the excellent efficacy data (about 95%) obtained with mRNA vaccines, the first to market the FDA and predictably the EMA. More than 160 vaccine candidates are in development and a dozen have completed or are completing the phase III trial.
Of course, the pages that Science dedicates to this unprecedented rapid development also highlight some setbacks, which largely “revealed alarming rifts between scientists and politicians,” but from which a lesson can be learned about the need to “reactivate and strengthen the links between science and the rest of society. “
Few experts bet on being able to start vaccination campaigns before the first anniversary of the identification of the pathogen. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Niaid), in the United States, sees a more distant horizon for the arrival of the first vaccination campaigns. And also, like many others, the president of the Spanish Association of Vaccination (AEV), Ams Garca-Rojas, placed that beginning in the first quarter of 2021.
The rapid development reinforces that “we are facing a milestone in scientific knowledge “says the expert, who considers the tribute to this finding as something “appropriate and fair”, taking into account that “the vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 will be one of the instruments that allow modulating the public health problem that it has meant the arrival of the coronavirus, the greatest in recent times. “
From the Spanish Society of Preventive Medicine, Public Health and Hygiene (SEMPSPH), this tribute also seems to them “at least, correct”. SEMPSH sources highlight this newspaper as a historical fact that the FDA would approve phase III in the morning and in the afternoon the first person was being pricked. “Excellent public-private collaboration has been achieved. There is, for example, the Covax program of the World Health Organization (WHO), with which pharmaceutical companies were given greater security to start their research , and that it has allowed a greater investment than in principle could have been made. ”
They also highlight the agility of the regulatory agencies in the approval of the different steps, without losing rigor in the control mechanisms. Something that the experts consulted make clear: the vaccines have been approved with all the guarantees of safety.
The great spread of the disease throughout the world has also made it possible to advance the times, points out the Society for Preventive Medicine. “It took at least four years to recruit 60,000 people to study a pneumococcal vaccine in the Netherlands, while now 40,000 volunteers have been added to phase III of a COVID trial in weeks.”
The fact that the first vaccines to complete their development in the West they are based on mRNA technology It is also something remarkable for Garca-Rojas. “In addition to the progress made by having a vaccine against Covid, we must add that a new and stimulating technology has been used, and in the specific case of mRNA it is suggestive of a short-term revolution in the world of vaccines , by opening many doors to the possibility of developing new immunizations against other diseases “.
But the most important thing for a vaccine is the universal distribution, which are available to as many people as possible. “The vaccine does not save lives, but its administration, the policies that allow these vaccines to reach those who need them,” recalls Garca-Rojas.
The president of the AEV does not venture when the Spanish population will be vaccinated in a sufficient percentage (around 60-70%) to ensure herd immunity against SARS-Co-2. “It was a bit long, because it depends on some factors that are difficult to control, such as the rate of arrival of the doses and the initial reluctance to vaccinate citizens; there are surveys that now place it at more than 50%. luckily, it might be after the summer. ” Regarding the potential reluctance, the SEMPSPH refers to counteracting the “logical doubts” with quality information. And while herd immunity arrives, sooner or later, it is important to remember the need to maintain preventive measures.
In addition to vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, Science highlights other findings relevant to science that have occurred in 2020. Without leaving the field of medicine, this year preliminary data was presented indicating that the gene editing technology CRISPR-Cas9 (winner of the last Nobel Prize in Chemistry) could cure certain rare hematological diseases. In other areas, the discovery of the oldest figurative art in the world is also relevant; the realization that birds have extraordinary cognitive capacity, as well as the identification of the origin of an astrophysical phenomenon (rapid radio bursts), and the growing presence of black voices in the scientific community.
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