First volunteers to receive vaccine for the new coronavirus in early trial


Amid the rapid spread of the coronavirus around the world, American scientists have some heartening news: An experimental Covid-19 vaccine will be given to the first volunteers in a US trial on Monday.

Funded by the US National Institutes of Health and conducted at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, a team of scientists plans to administer varying doses of a vaccine developed by the NIH and Moderna Inc. to 45 young, healthy volunteers, the Associated Press reported.

The vaccine does not contain any virus since this preliminary trial is designed to test only for troublesome side effects, the wire service said.

A distant goal

Despite the promising first step, public health officials stressed that a widely available vaccine is still a distant goal.

Even if initial safety tests go well, "you're talking about a year to a year and a half" before any vaccine could be ready for widespread use, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the AP reported.

And that's if everything moves forward without any glitches.

"Delays can happen at any point in vaccine development. One step has gone at a very fast pace for one company, and that's great news," Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology with the Harvard School of Public Health, said of the Moderna trial when it was first announced in February. "We'll see over the next few weeks and months if other companies and developers replicate that kind of speed."

Different types of vaccines

Around the world, dozens of teams are developing different types of vaccines as coronavirus moves across the globe. As of Monday, more than 168 000 cases and 6 600 deaths have been reported worldwide by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Inovio Pharmaceuticals plans to start safety tests of its vaccine candidate next month in a few dozen volunteers at the University of Pennsylvania and a testing center in Kansas City, Mo., followed by a similar study in China and South Korea, the AP reported.

Doctors have also been trying different treatments for Covid-19, using HIV drugs and a new antiviral called Remdesivir that was developed to treat Ebola. The University of Nebraska Medical Center has already used the antiviral in a small number of Americans who were infected while aboard a cruise ship in Japan in February.

Lipsitch noted that a number of vaccines developed for other infectious diseases – such as Zika, MERS and SARS – wound up on the shelf because those viruses dissipated over time.

"I don't think that's going to be the problem with this one," Lipsitch said. "I think we're going to have ongoing transmission [of Covid-19] for a long time."

Luckily, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

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Image credit: Getty Images

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