Did you know that the common flu kills at least 12,000 Americans each year?
Meanwhile, the coronavirus has infected nearly 60,000 and killed 1,370 people, mostly in China where it originated.
So, why are people more concerned over the possible threat of a coronavirus epidemic in the US? The reason for this paranoia comes from the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus; we do not know how deadly the virus can be, as well as how to combat it.
Researchers are working on creating a vaccine that can stem the spread of the coronavirus, which now has a new name -- COVID-19. Let's look at the process of creating a vaccine and why it takes time.
How Are Vaccines Made?
Vaccines help our bodies develop antibodies to combat the virus. Most importantly, our bodies will store those antibodies and “remember” how to fight the disease should we encounter it again.
Scientists make vaccines in three different ways, all of which include injecting small parts of a virus into the body.
One method is weakening the virus so that it barely reproduces in the body. The virus that is injected through the vaccine is not strong enough to spread disease, but the body will remember the virus and fight off future infections. This vaccine is life-long, but people with weak immune systems cannot use it.
The second method is killing the virus with a chemical so the body will learn to recognize the virus. This method is safer in that individuals with weak immune systems can use it. However, the vaccine requires multiple doses. The third method is removing part of the virus and injecting it into the body. This can be used when the disease only comes from a specific part of the virus. For instance, vaccines for hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV) use this method.
Why Isn't There A Coronavirus Vaccine Yet?
In the past, creating a vaccine would take a decade or more as scientists would have to isolate the virus and grow it in the lab.
Nowadays, scientists only need the genetic sequence of the virus to get started. Chinese scientists released the genetic sequence from the new coronavirus in January, very soon after the first infections were reported.
For some of the bigger pharmaceutical companies, developing a new vaccine is not of interest because it can take more than a year. The new vaccines have to be tested on animals and undergo clinical trials in small groups of people before they are released to the general public. These companies have lost billions of dollars in the past trying to develop a new vaccine only to find out that the outbreak had subsided.
Meanwhile, a few existing antiviral drugs are being tested by health authorities in Wuhan, China. Until a new vaccine is ready, the best option is to quarantine (isolate) patients, make sure people wash their hands thoroughly, and avoid crowds and sick people.
Sources: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, NPR, US News, Vox, PKIDs, BBC