A range of different COVID-19 vaccines are already being tested in humans. But how will the vaccines actually work?

At least 200 different vaccines against COVID-19 are under development and more than 20 candidates are being tested on healthy individuals. This gives hope that one or more will give protective immunity. But how are the vaccines designed and are there any obstacles?

A range of COVID-19 vaccines are under evaluation in animals and humans. While most are at the pre-clinical stage, a handful has entered early but also late clinical trials. These are designed in very distinct ways, each with their own potential challenges.

Foto: Tuva Holt Hereng

The new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is named for the crown of protein spikes displayed on its surface. The crown protein, also referred to as the Spike, is required for the virus to infect our cells. The result is release of new virus copies that can infect other cells. This may make us ill and lead to further spread of the virus.

On January 11, the Chinese authorities published the recipe for the new coronavirus, its genetic code. This inspired the company Moderna to develop a so-called messenger RNA-based vaccine (mRNA 1273).

Messenger RNA carries the instruction to make proteins. As such, RNA vaccines against the coronavirus will give rise to viral proteins. Upon vaccination with mRNA-1273, cells in your body will produce the crown protein, and the immune system will recognize it as foreign.

The aim is to gain immunological memory, which is the ability of the immune system to rapidly and effectively respond to a foreign substance that the body has previously encountered - in this case, the crown protein that the vaccine is built on. Hopefully, this will give long-lasting protection against the real virus.

It seems to work – but for how long?

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