Coronavirus Vaccine: What You Need To Know
By Laura Gervais
Science & Environment Editor
Nine months ago, we naïvely thought we were getting an extra week of Spring break. We all know how that turned out. Now, Christmas has officially been cancelled in Québec and it’s definitely not the most wonderful time of the year. Everyone is anxiously awaiting the return to “normal” — to get out of the house, to reunite with friends and family, to start living again.
Thankfully, a vaccine is on its way, and according to Health Canada, it could even be approved before Christmas. Usually, it takes approximately ten years to complete an approved vaccine — from the development stage to the clinical trials — and this time around, it has been a matter of months. No vaccine has been officially approved yet in Canada, but the UK has recently given the okay to one lot of Pfizer’s vaccine (not the vaccine as a whole) and is the first country to do so (as of the writing of this article on December 7).
There are multiple vaccine contenders, but the main two are those produced by Pfizer and Moderna. The Pfizer candidate is the most advanced, as it has completed the third phase of clinical trials. This means that the vaccine has been tested initially on 1-100 volunteers to check its functionality, then on 50-500 volunteers to verify schedule and dosage, and finally on 300-30,000 volunteers to confirm positive results on a larger scale. On November 18, the company announced that their vaccine proved to be 95% effective. Moderna’s clinical trial is still ongoing, but they’re not too far behind; their vaccine has shown to be 94.5% effective.
An interesting thing about both vaccines is that they both use a new, never-seen-before technology. Unlike the traditional protein-based vaccine and the viral vector vaccine, which have both been around for a while now, Pfizer and Moderna have developed a new kind of vaccine which has never been approved of before: mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines. These are actually considered to be safer. According to the CBC article “What are the side effects of Pfizer’s, Moderna’s vaccines? Your questions answered” by writers Emily Chung and Amina Zafar, this “type of vaccine does not contain any virus or viral proteins, which means it can’t cause a real infection.”
However, there remain concerns and questions to address. For instance, neither vaccine has been tested on immunodeficient patients, children, or pregnant people. We also don’t know how long the vaccines would work once administered or their long-term effects. Short-term side effects do not seem to be serious — they include your normal pain at the injection site, slight fatigue, and headache, among others. Another crucial factor to look at is the distribution of the vaccine once it has been approved, and that may prove to be a challenge, since it must be stored at a temperature of -70°C. Because of this, the vaccination of citizens of developing countries will be no easy feat, but an essential one nonetheless.
It may take a while to go out in public without a mask, but I have hope that one day soon(ish) we will once again be able to actually smile at people— not just crinkle our eyes at them so they know we’re smiling underneath the mask. Dr. Christopher Labos, who the Enriched Science students were lucky to have as a seminar guest speaker in October, provided his own reassurance: “It looks as if both these vaccines are going to work, and very likely both these vaccines are going to be rolling out early 2021.”