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Everything you need to know about the coronavirus vaccine

There are a lot of candidates.

Aug 24, 2020, 7:16 am*

Tech

 

Libby Cohen

A coronavirus vaccine may be the closest solution to ending the global pandemic.

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The world is watching a few key players race to find the cure, including a leading Oxford study along with the Trump administration's federal project, "Operation Warp Speed."

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The goal of a vaccine is to achieve immunity among injected patients. Twenty seven vaccines are in human trials right now according to the New York Times.

Before reaching the public, the vaccine must graduate from four phases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states on its website. Phase I introduces the vaccine to a small, controlled group of people. If successful, the vaccine moves on to Phase II and III, which widen the characteristics and amount of people tested.

In Phase IV, researchers continue to test and vet the vaccine, but it is approved and licensed for public use.

The potential vaccine by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish pharmaceutical company, has garnered recent headlines as it was the first vaccine to enter Phase III trials. Phase III monitors the vaccine in 30,000 participants.

But, it is not alone in the search for the vaccine. Government health agencies like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and international pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer are also looking to end the pandemic.

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However, even before a vaccine has been finalized, anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, and hackers have stood in the way of vaccination research. One conspiracy accused billionaire Bill Gates of wanting to implant tracking devices into vaccine patients, according to BBC News.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in late July that he was "cautiously optimistic" that a vaccine would be developed by the end of 2020. Until then, here is everything we know about a coronavirus vaccine.

Who is looking for the coronavirus vaccine?

While the race has many competitors, one stands out. The Oxford, AstraZeneca partnership has been labeled the front-runner.

The conclusion of its Phase I/II trial on July 20 reported patients with immunity and limited side effects. The next step is Phase III which will run a trial of 30,000 in South Africa and Brazil.

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Operation Warp Speed is also backing this vaccine. Formed, under HHS and the Department of Defense, Operation Warp Speed (OWS) was allocated $10 billion to facilitate the distribution of a vaccine by Jan. 2021, according to its website.

That time frame cuts years off the typical vaccine development, as Politico reports.

In exchange for $1.2 billion, the U.S. will receive 300 million doses of the Oxford vaccine once available.

But, Operation Warp Speed is not putting all of its eggs in one basket. The Johnson & Johnson, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and BARDA vaccine earned $456 million in March. This vaccine is entering Phase I/II in the U.S. and Belgium.

More recently, Operation Warp Speed awarded Novavax with $1.6 billion. Novavax is a young American biotechnology company that has never produced a vaccine before. Regardless, Novavax received half of their Operation Warp Speed fund in early July and will receive the other half if it manufactures a successful vaccine by year's end.

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Another contender is the Pfizer, BioNtech, and Fosun Pharma partnership. The American, German, and Chinese companies have a vaccine that trails Oxford with Phase III starting this month. Operation Warp Speed awarded Pfizer with $1.95 billion.

This vaccine has more notable side effects such as sleep disturbances and sore arms, according to the New York Times.

Next up is one of the first vaccines to enter the playing field—Moderna. This vaccine differs from the others because it uses mRNA or genetic messaging material that tells cells to produce protein found in the coronavirus. This particular genetic makeup of the vaccine expedited development in just 63 days, Politico says.

CanSino Biologics and Beijing Institute of Biotechnology are also among the studies in search of a coronavirus vaccine. This Chinese based vaccine mimics the vaccine for Ebola.

The final distinguishable vaccine is produced by Inovio. The vaccine has backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

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Operation Warp Speed also supports the Inovio vaccine as the project named this vaccine as the primary study to compare all other vaccines to. It announced Phase III by the end of summer.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia's Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology has produced the first viable vaccine.

They are calling it Sputnik-V.

"A vaccine against coronavirus has been registered for the first time in the world this morning," Putin said. "I know that it works quite effectively, it forms a stable immunity."

But, even Russian researchers are expressing concerns. The Moscow-based Association of Clinical Trials Organizations (ACTO) say that the vaccine has yet to be tested on 100 people. Regardless, Putin claimed one of his daughters have taken the vaccine.

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Who are coronavirus vaccine hackers?

The front-runners for the vaccine have increasingly become targets for hackers looking to steal information about potential cures.

Hackers from Russia and China have both been accused of stealing coronavirus vaccine information, according to reports.

The U.K.'s National Cyber Security Centre announced the first attempt on coronavirus vaccine research from U.S., U.K., and Canadian organizations in mid-July, according to CNN.

They issued a statement that accused Russian hacking group called ‘APT29’, also known as ‘the Dukes’ or ‘Cozy Bear,' and even likened the group to Russian intelligence. But, the Kremlin issued that it had "nothing to do" with the cyber attack.

The U.S. Department of Justice also accused two Chinese hackers of gaining access to company, government, non-profit information.

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Three unspecified vaccine researchers were also hacked according to Politico. John Demers, head of the Justice Department's National Security Division, similarly linked the hackers to their origin government.

"China has now taken its place, alongside Russia, Iran, and North Korea, in that shameful club of nations that provide a safe haven for cyber criminals in exchange for those criminals being ‘on call’ to work for the benefit of the state, here to feed the Chinese Communist party’s insatiable hunger for American and other non-Chinese companies’ hard-earned intellectual property, including COVID-19 research," Demers said in a statement.

Regardless of the identity of the hackers, the cyberattacks distract and prevent research.

Will a coronavirus vaccine end the pandemic?

Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says that social distancing, masks, and a vaccine will likely bring the world back to a sense of normalcy.

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"The timetable you suggested of getting into 2021, well into the year, then I can think with a successful vaccine—if we could vaccinate the overwhelming majority of the population—we could start talking about real normality again," Fauci said in an interview with CNN. "But it is going to be a gradual process."

Anthony Fauci Coronavirus
The White House/YouTube

In late July, Fauci told Congress he didn't think it was "dreaming" to see a vaccine by the end of the year.

But, the short development process threatens the likelihood of providing a vaccine to the majority of the population.

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Medical experts are not confident that manufacturers will be able to produce enough doses to achieve herd immunity, according to Nautilus.

Production of a vaccine at this pace has never been done so although a vaccine is being heavily relied on as the miracle solution to the coronavirus pandemic, no one can confidently say that it will be the end.

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*First Published: Aug 23, 2020, 9:00 am