The beginning of the end of the pandemic?

Today’s big news was Moderna’s press release of the results from the Phase I clinical trial of its Coronavirus vaccine.

The vaccine, comprised of RNA coding for the spike protein of COVID, induces the cells in the recipient to produce portions of the coronavirus protein, which then induce an immune response. The vaccine showed no toxicity in eight recipients, which was the primary goal of the study. 

In addition, the subjects developed immune responses to the coronavirus protein fragments equivalent in intensity to having an actual infection. The press release also said that mice immunized with the vaccine made antibodies that could inactivate the virus and prevent lung infection.

The significance of this accomplishment cannot be overstated. Within several months of identifying the infectious agent, a vaccine candidate has been produced and given to eight individuals without an adverse reaction. In addition, the vaccine produced an immune response to a protein associated with the virus. This is an accomplishment that would have taken years several decades ago.

The celebrations seen today are warranted simply on the achievement of this vaccine candidate given the time frame!

That having been said several things must be remembered.

1. The type of immunity demonstrated (antibody) may not be adequate to protect people against actual coronavirus infection.

2. The ability to induce protective immunity in susceptible, at risk patients is unclear. This was simply eight healthy volunteers under the age of 55.

3. The duration of immunity from this injection is not known.

4. The vaccine still has the potential to worsen infection rather than protect from it.

All these concerns will be addressed in larger clinical trials which are now being initiated. Ensuring that the vaccine truly is safe and effective in the at-risk population is what needs to be accomplished over the next 12 to 18 months. 

In addition, there are multiple other vaccines in development that should be able to induce similar types of immune responses. Some of these vaccines will be easier to store and potentially more immunogenic (stronger) than Moderna’s vaccine. All should be considered independently and may be useful for different populations. 

Regardless of how long it takes, today truly may have been the beginning of the end of this pandemic.

Published by jbakerjrblog

Immunologist, former Army MD, former head of allergy and clinical immunology at University of Michigan, vaccine developer and opinionated guy.

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