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Pfizer-BionNTech’s recent announcement of the high efficacy of its SARS-CoV-2 vaccine has caused a global commotion. The spectacular rises in the stock market, especially in the tourism sector, indicate that markets anticipate a quick return to previous normality. Even Donald Trump laments. If Pfizer had released this news a few days earlier, the election results could have been different. The media speak of a historic milestone.
What is true in all this? Is it really the excellent news that the world was waiting to hear or is it just our desire that the nightmare of Covid-19 ends as soon as possible?
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It is, without doubt, a great triumph for science.
The spectacular development of molecular genetics during the last decades allowed Pfizer-BionNTech to use new technology. An RNA (ribonucleic acid) vaccine. With current techniques it is the easiest and fastest way to obtain a vaccine against a coronavirus.
We will try to explain to all audiences how did they get it.
A fragment of RNA is extracted (ribonucleic acid) from SARS-CoV-2. Specifically the gene of the coronavirus that codes for the protein that forms the spike, which are that kind of so characteristic corona peaks that cover the coronavirus.
Once achieved, that fragment it is copied billions of times. And then, each fragment is wrapped in a layer of lipids. This is how the RNA fragment enters the interior of our cells.
Once inside, that RNA is the blueprint for making the spike protein. It is read by ribosomes (the factory in our cells that makes proteins) and our cells begin to produce proteins of the spicule.
By themselves these proteins of the spicule of the virus will not harm us. But our immune system realizes that these coronavirus spike proteins are not ours, and responds. It produces antibodies that stick to the spike protein. It also produces T lymphocytes, which attack cells ours in which the RNA of the vaccine entered and they are making the protein of the spicule.
The result is that, after this, if we get infected with SARS-CoV-2 we have antibodiesThey will stick to your spicules and inactivate it. We also have T lymphocytes ready to attack it. And T lymphocytes, to explain it in a slightly ‘light’ but understandable way, are responsible for cellular immunity that can respond specifically against pathogens by destroying infected cells or activating other ‘destroyers’ of those ‘bad’ cells.
The idea of the vaccine is brilliant.
But it could never have been carried out without the development of molecular biology that occurred after World War II, largely thanks to the pioneering efforts of scientists who had participated in the war effort, several of them in the development of the atomic bomb.
Let’s not forget: For us to build an RNA vaccine today, it took the effort of entire lives of tens of thousands of scientists, and millions of millions of dollars dedicated to funding research, for decades.
The big question is Will it work well enough to end the coronavirus?
For this the vaccine it has to be effective. In phase 3 trials it proved to be. Protects from Covid-19 90% of those vaccinated. An excellent result.
But let’s be cautious. At the moment, there are less than 100 people who were exposed to the coronavirus after being vaccinated. More data is needed.
Further, it has to be safe. Seems to be. 43,500 people were vaccinated in the phase 3 trial and so far does not appear to have negative effects. But very little time has passed.
And several specialists do not like that it is an RNA vaccine because could have unforeseen complications, possibly in people who have retrovirus infections. You have to wait to find out. And it would be a major complication because retroviruses are the most important pathogens of recent decades. Viruses of different nature capable of producing cancer, autoimmune diseases, immunodeficiencies such as HIV …
On the other hand, RNAs last a short time inside cells. This makes the vaccine need 2 doses. It begins to be effective 7 days after the second dose, which starts almost a month after the first.
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So that we can control the disease we have to vaccinate at least 70% of the world’s population. To vaccinate 5 billion human beings we would need 10 billion doses. A good logistics problem.
And a major complication added to this logistics is conservation. RNA vaccines are very delicate. They must always be kept in a cold chain. But not the cold from the fridge at home. They need to be below -80ºC. And if it is not done well, the effectiveness is lost.
Without a doubt, this vaccine brings hope.
It can be an impressive success. It usually takes 10 years to get a vaccine. So far the fastest we managed to develop was mumps in just 4 years. And after many decades we still have not been able to find a vaccine against AIDS.
But there are many reasons to be realistic. There is not going to be a miracle. As much as the stock market rises, the markets are not experts in public health (probably the opposite). Undoubtedly, the profits between the sectors involved (pharmaceuticals, logistics, etc.) will be millionaires.
At the moment there are 10 vaccines in phase 3, 15 in phase 2, 22 in phase 1 and 155 in pre-clinical trials. The market is huge and there is surely room for several vaccines. We may even be able to choose what type of vaccine we want to get.
But the reality is that hopefully We will begin mass vaccination, if all goes well, around the middle of next year.
Before that the Covid-19 is still going to give many problems. Unfortunately hundreds of thousands of people will still die, perhaps millions. It depends on how we do it.
Surely after Christmas we will have a new rebound. We can’t let our guard down or we will pay dearly for it.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.