First Patient Set To Receive Experimental Coronavirus Vaccine In Clinical Trial

COVID-19 has presented the world with something not seen before in our lifetimes: a global breakout of a disease that nobody on Earth has an immunity to. While SARS and MERS did indeed see serious infections and caused hundreds of deaths, the scale was nothing like we've seen with the current novel coronavirus outbreak.

To date, there have been almost 175,000 cases worldwide and more than 6,600 deaths, and those are only the ones we know about.

That's why governments and public health authorities are under immense pressure to develop a vaccine.

And so, a clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine is about to get started in Seattle, skipping any animal trials and starting with humans, the Associated Press reported.

The clinical trial involves 45 young, healthy volunteers at Seattle's Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, who will each be given a shot of the potential vaccine.

The potential vaccine in the trial does not contain the virus, or even an attenuated version of it as vaccines for other diseases would.

So there's no risk of the trial's participants becoming infected from the shots.

This potential vaccine, in development by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, instead uses genetic engineering to stimulate an immune response.

Here's how it works, in theory:

Unsplash | Fusion Medical Animation

Rather than injecting the participants with the virus, the team will inject messenger RNA as well as tiny shards of virus. The messenger RNA contains instructions on how to build receptors on the virus that the body's immune system can recognize. The idea is to get the immune system active and targeting the virus with those new receptors without causing an illness.

The goal is merely to make sure there are no serious side effects so that a larger study can be rolled out soon.

Moderna isn't the only team working on a vaccine for COVID-19, of course.

There are teams working on it around the globe, many under the umbrella of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which is a three-year-old initiative that began after the Ebola epidemic in Africa. The abundance of research means that many different approaches are being taken to combat COVID-19.

Inovio Pharmaceutical is due to begin safety testing of its potential vaccine in April as well.

However, experts caution that a safe, widely available vaccine will take some time to develop.

Unsplash | Macau Photo Agency

Even if the initial safety tests go well, it should be about 12-18 months for a vaccine to be available, according to Dr Anthony Fauci, director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and that would be an incredible achievement, especially considering that the Ebola vaccine was in development for a decade before it was used in Africa.

h/t: AP, The Guardian