The world is currently dealing with one of the worst pandemics in recorded human history. The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, which broke out earlier this year, is showing no signs of slowing down and has affected millions of people across the world.
So far, over 39 million people have contracted the novel coronavirus and over one million people have died. With more than 200,000 deaths, the United States remains the worst affected country by a wide margin.
How COVID-19 Infection Is Treated
A definitive cure for COVID-19 infection has not been found yet. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any specific drug to treat the infection. As of now, the treatment plan is to provide supportive care to infected patients until the virus runs its course.
Some of the drugs that are used in the treatment of COVID-19 infection include:
- Antiviral drugs like remdesivir to reduce the viral load in infected patients.
- Anti-malarial drugs like hydroxychloroquine sulfate and chloroquine phosphate, which are known to have antiviral properties.
- Azithromycin – an antibacterial drug that is known to reduce viral load in COVID-19 patients, especially when administered in conjunction with hydroxychloroquine.
- Dexamethasone – a corticosteroid that has been proven to reduce the mortality risk in COVID-19 patients to a significant extent.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the level of inflammation in COVID-19 patients.
- Convalescent plasma (plasma rich in COVID-19 antibodies) extracted from the blood of recovered patients.
- Zinc and vitamin D supplements to boost immune function in infected patients.
In addition to this, COVID-19 patients are also prescribed cold and flu medications to treat the symptoms of the coronavirus infection – including cold, dry cough, fever, and body ache. Patients with respiratory disorders and other at-risk patients are also given supplementary oxygen to make sure they do not develop any breathing problems.
The problem, however, is that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is extremely contagious and can spread from one person to another in a number of ways including droplet transmission, aerosol transmission, contact transmission, and direct transmission. If left unchecked, the virus could affect a vast majority of the global population, which can be disastrous considering the fact that the mortality rate among infected patients can be anywhere from 0.5% to 1%.
This is why experts believe that the most effective way to contain the pandemic is to inoculate a large section of the global population against the virus with the help of a vaccine.
COVID-19 Vaccine – The Story So Far
Ever since the novel coronavirus pandemic broke out, scientists and medical professionals around the world have been trying to find a vaccine for the infection. While there have been no significant breakthroughs so far, experts believe that a first-generation vaccine could be out by the end of this year or by the middle of 2021.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that more than 100 vaccines are currently under development, of which 42 are in the human trial stage. So far, the only country which has approved a COVID-19 vaccine in Russia.
Sputnik V – which was developed by the researchers at the Gamaleya Research Institute in Moscow – is the first vaccine to enter the market. There are, however, significant concerns about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, since it was approved by the Russian government without undergoing phase 3 trials.
China has also approved a vaccine for the COVID-19 infection, but as is the case with the Russian vaccine, significant concerns have been raised regarding its safety and efficacy.
The US government – under its Operation Warp Speed (OWS) program – has chosen to fund three vaccine candidates which are currently in phase 3 trials – BNT162 by Pfizer and BioNTech, AZD1222 by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, and mRNA-1273 by Moderna.
One of the major concerns with COVID-19 infection is that people who recover from the infection do not develop lifelong immunity against the virus. Studies show that the antibodies that protect you against the virus only last for about three to six months. This is why a large number of recovered patients across different age groups are getting re-infected again.
With this being the case, some experts are of the opinion that we cannot be sure that a vaccine could help us gain lifelong immunity against the novel coronavirus. There can be, however, no doubt about the fact that a vaccine can reduce the severity of the infection to a significant extent, which can not only reduce the mortality rate among infected patients but can also reduce the risk of person-to-person transmission considerably.
Who Should Be Vaccinated against COVID-19 Infection?
Experts say that a significant percentage of the population (at least 25%) should be inoculated in order to contain community transmission across the world.
The following categories of people are likely to be vaccinated first, as soon as a vaccine is approved by the FDA and other agencies.
- Elderly people (those who are over the age of 60)
- People with underlying health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, respiratory disorders, and immunodeficiency disorders
- People who have undergone organ transplants
- Cancer survivors
- Healthcare workers who work on the frontlines to treat infected patients
Young people – especially those without underlying health problems – are unlikely to be vaccinated en masse, as medical professionals believe that those who are young and healthy can recover at home on their own, as the effects of the infections might be similar to that of the flu.
The bottom line is that a COVID-19 vaccine – even if it is developed within the expected timeframe – might not be a silver bullet against the pandemic. Still, even if it is only 50% effective – just like the flu vaccine – it would still go a long way in reducing the mortality rate among the infected and containing the spread of the pandemic – especially in developing countries where large sections of the population do not have access to quality healthcare. So, let us hope the researchers develop a vaccine soon so that we can put this whole pandemic business behind us and get back to normalcy.