While people the world over hope for the news that a coronavirus vaccine will be developed to put an end to this pandemic nightmare, some experts say that there is no guarantee that a fully effective COVID-19 jab is possible. There's uncertainty about if, when and for how long the infected generate antibodies that can prevent further infection -- and antibodies are a cornerstone of vaccine efforts.
According to PublicHealth.org, “a vaccine works by training the immune system to recognize and combat pathogens, either viruses or bacteria. The immune system then safely learns recognize to them as hostile invaders, produce antibodies, and remember them for the future.”
While vaccines have conquered many horrible viral diseases such a smallpox, polio, mumps and tetanus, some viruses are resistant to vaccination. According to immunologist Rachel Roper, “This may be one,” she told the New York Intelligencer, referring to COVID-19.
Roper, a professor of immunology at East Carolina University who took part in the unsuccessful effort to make a SARS vaccine, says that COVID-19 is a close cousin to SARS, the virus that circulated in Asia and killed more than 700 people. “They really are very similar viruses, both virulent and contagious,” she said. Back during the SARS outbreak, public health measures eradicated the disease before researchers had a chance to test their most likely vaccine candidates.
While eradication isn’t happening anytime soon with COVID-19, Roper points out that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never approved a vaccine for humans that is effective against any member of the coronavirus family, which includes SARS, MERS, and several that can cause the common cold, according to the Intelligencer.
Still, there are more than 35 companies and academic institutions around the world working on COVID-19 vaccines so it’s possible one or more vaccines will be found.
Even if the perfect vaccine isn’t discovered, Roper says that an imperfect one that’s fully effective for just a short period of time would be better than nothing. However, there are still many unknowns about COVID-19, and one of them is how long any vaccine would help protect against reinfection, according to The Guardian. Usually when a person develops a disease, the body makes antibodies that defend against further attack by the pathogen. A recent study in China revealed that patients who had the disease had very low levels of antibodies after they recovered — and some had none at all.
This leads some experts to question whether a vaccine would offer any protection after all. “We just don’t know yet,” says Roper.
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