COVID-19 Vaccine, The Money, and The Politics
By: Elizabeth Fifield
1. How does our body fight a virus?
2. What’s the solution to fighting COVID-19?
3. Who’s creating this vaccination?
4. The Race between Nations, who’s getting this vaccination first?
Epidemiologists believe humanity is entering a dangerous new age of infectious diseases. With the pandemic at large, experts around the world are working diligently for a vaccine to help our immune system fight the SARS-CoV-2, better known as COVID-19. Ongoing studies will be necessary to help create an effective vaccine. To administer the vaccine, it requires medical supply manufactures to produce this necessary equipment of incredible amounts. COVID-19 affects us worldwide, its resulted in political turmoil and a race to see who will actually produce a viable vaccine to manufacture and distribute.
How does our body fight a virus?
In my previous article I had discussed what the COVID-19 virus is based on John Hopkins Medicine definition. How does our body fight a virus or viral infections, such as COVID-19? In an article written by PhD researcher Kerry Laing, she explains how our immune system fights against viruses. Viruses attack with a guerilla warfare tactic. When a virus enters our body, it’s hiding by acting as if it’s dead. The virus doesn’t come alive or “turn on”, until the virus enters a cell host. Once the virus enters inside the cell’s host, it attacks from the inside out. This makes it difficult for our immune system to detect if our bodies have been invaded. Luckily, we’ve developed some systems to protect ourselves against these viruses. Here's 3 ways our immune system protects us:
In some cases, cells can employ a display of protein pieces made by the virus on the surface of a cell, exposing the virus invader. Immune cells or white blood cells work diligently to find any infection and attack as soon as it’s detected.
Another defense our immune system uses is with Antibodies, which are programmed proteins that stick and bind to any invading pathogens or viruses.
This neutralizes the virus’ ability to cause harm and makes it an easy target for immune cells to attack and destroy.
This is a short clip of a white blood cell traveling along the blood vessels wall.
What’s the solution to fighting COVID-19?
Some have argued that we can just kill viruses with antivirus medication, however that is not a viable option. NBC News interviewed virologist Derek Gatherer, and he explains why killing viruses with medications isn’t reliable or safe. Viruses are essentially dead and don’t do anything until they come in contact with a host cell. As soon as this happens, they come to life. Viruses don’t have a metabolism or the ability to reproduce, thus makes it even more difficult to target with drugs. Viruses are completely dependent on a host cell to operate and replicate. We could cause more harm than good because the medicine could incidentally destroy healthy cells. In the coronavirus outbreak the virus protein locks on our lung cells, which is why it mainly causes respiratory illnesses. Lung cells are fragile and cannot be regenerated once destroyed, scientist don't want the risk.
The solution to this pandemic is a vaccine. According to the Center of Disease Control, a vaccine can prevent diseases that can be dangerous or even deadly. Vaccines reduce the risk of infection by working with the body’s natural defenses to safely develop immunity to a disease. Vaccines imitate an infection causing an immune response. The immune system responds to this imitation infection by creating T-lymphocytes and antibodies. After our immune system rids of the imitation infection the immune system creates memory T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight the disease in the future. However, it takes weeks to become effective. If the patient contracts the disease before or during the vaccination they would likely be infected with the disease.
Who’s creating this vaccination?
With such a strong need, hundreds of organizations around the world are working to develop an effective vaccine. In Peter Coy’s article, “The Best Shots,” he discusses the influx of cash being allocated for vaccine development. The U.S. government has committed $2 billion to the venture of Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline and $1.2 billion to the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca. As well as U.S. companies Pfizer $1.95 billion, Novavax $1.6 billion, $483 million to Moderna, $456 million to Johnson and Johnson, among others. There is estimated to be 8 billion dollars invested in vaccine research from the United States alone.
With multiple companies and academic labs working to find a vaccine, the U.S government waived fees to speed up the process for COVID-19 patent, easing the research and development path for smaller teams that might not have been able to afford the extra charges, which average about $2,100. These companies need investments to finance the trials required to seek approval for a drug. In May of 2020 the World Health Organization formed a patent pool asking researchers to share proprietary information, while not giving up royalties, to make it easier for vaccine researchers to replicate one another’s work. A group of U.S. academics and engineers formed a patent coalition with a similar intent Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and other giants agreed to participate. No pharma companies joined. In signing a $2 billion deal to supply their experimental vaccine to the U.S., Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech set a price of less than $20 per dose.
The amount of vaccines that will need to be created are in the billions. There are very few drug companies that have the capability to manufacture on such a large scale. The Serum Institute of India is the largest manufacturer of vaccines in the world and can produce about 1.5 billion doses a year of almost any inoculation. Adar Poonawalla has a machine that can fill 500 glass vials every minute, and gleaming steel bioreactors almost two stories high. Western manufacturers had spent much of the previous decade shifting to more complex vaccines that could command higher prices. Serum’s economies of scale allow it to sell vaccines cheaper than anyone else and still turn a profit. For the COVID-19 vaccine, Poonawalla estimates he won’t charge much more than $13 per dose. Most countries have already signed an agreement with The Serum Institute to receive the vaccine as soon as its produce. However, the company has already promised that it will put their country first.
The U.S. government has options. For instance, they can exercise what’s known as “march-in” rights under the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act to take control of the patent inventions and let others use them and manufacture themselves. However, the government may not need to intervene. The Freedom of Information Act request uncovered industry friendly details in government deals with drug makers. Contracts with Johnson & Johnson for a vaccine and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc for a treatment allow the government access to these technologies in order for us to work with other countries. Many consumer advocacy groups are urging the government to build some price guarantees into vaccine contracts or at least offer transparency into what tax payers are going to have to pay.
The Race between Nations
The pandemic is a global issue that’s affecting all nations. Resources are limited, we can’t produce one vaccine by the billions yet. This begs the question: Who’s going to get the vaccine first?
The World Health Organization, in anticipation of unequal distribution of the vaccine, had created an agreement for countries to sign. It’s called the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility or COVAX. Currently more than 150 countries have agreed to participate. The agreement’s goal is to develop and distribute $2 billion in doses of a vaccine by the end of next year. Under this agreement, many countries will pool funds to produce vaccines for a slate of high-risk vaccine candidates. The idea is to discourage hoarding and focus on vaccinating high-risk population in every country first.
The World Health Organization has received criticism for their strategy to distribute the vaccine. It may be part of why the U.S. isn’t participating in COVAX. A worst-case scenario, which is highly unlikely, is that none of the U.S. vaccine candidates is viable leaving the United States with no option because it shunned the COVAX effort. The Trump administration said this month it would not participate in COVAX to secure doses or offer support. Under Operation Warp Speed, OWS, the United States government placed advance orders for hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines, with the aim to secure doses for most Americans.
Operation Warp Speed (OWS) is a collaboration of several US federal government departments working together to accelerate the development of drug and vaccine candidates for COVID-19.The COVID-19 Prevention Trials Network or COVPN is a functional unit of OWS, a partnership led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to invest in and coordinate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19, diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. The first Phase 3 clinical trial that the COVPN is expected to conduct will involve testing the mRNA-1273 vaccine, developed by NIAID scientists with their collaborators at biotechnology company Moderna, Inc. They are expected to begin testing with volunteers in the fall, and hopefully have a vaccine ready by January of 2021.The United states also invested for phase III trials in Oxford vaccine, and a third vaccine from German’s BioNTech, who partnered with Pfizer Inc.
Some Nations and pharmaceutical companies are planning for the possibility that vaccines or their components might be blocked from crossing borders. It’s clear there’s a contest but at what cost? It takes years to develop a vaccine and compressed timelines raise concerns. The Trump Administration applied pressure to the FDA to accelerate the approval process, which has raised red flags for members of Congress at a July hearing with pharmaceutical executives. Trump embraced the competition with his OWS, which is spending as much as $10 billion in the hope of having some 300 million doses available. This race for vaccination may not just determine who lives and dies, but which economies, and governments will rise and fall within the healthcare sector. Its clear the United State government is prepared to spend as much money as it takes and do whatever is necessary to obtain the vaccines for the American people. Are the American taxpayers ready to pay the price for our administrations decisions thus far? We will see what the future holds in this race of nations.
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