Column: SIU School of Medicine Dean and Provost Jerry Kruse, discusses COVID-19 vaccines

By Jerry Kruse, Dean and Provost of SIU School of Medicine

COVID-19 Vaccines

Development of COVID-19 vaccines has progressed more rapidly than the development of any other vaccines in history.  Two mRNA vaccines, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, will be considered for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the FDA in the next two weeks.

At least three other companies have developed vaccines whose preliminary efficacy and safety data will be published soon.  The FDA will likely act on EUA approvals for these shortly after the new year.

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By February, it is likely that 5 or more vaccines, that act through 3 or more mechanisms will be available for use.  The products will be labelled mRNA, adenovirus, and recombinant protein vaccines.  The several mechanisms will give the public a choice of vaccines, depending on distribution guidelines and individual and local preferences.

You may ask, “How did this happen so quickly?  With the speed of development, are all of these vaccines effective and safe?”  The answer is “Yes, effective” and “Yes, safe.”   All are hitting efficacies of 90 percent and above.

There are few side effects, for all aged 18 to 100 years, and most scientists believe that if 70 to 75 percent are immunized, herd immunity will result.

How did this happen so quickly?  Coronaviruses have been around since antiquity.  You may remember that the SARS epidemic that was averted in 2002 was caused by a coronavirus, similar to the one that has caused COVID-19.  You may also remember that the MERS epidemic that was averted in 2012, was also caused by a coronavirus similar to the one that has caused COVID-19.

Viruses are composed of two materials – genetic, either RNA or DNA, and proteins, usually only a few.  That’s it.  SARS, MERS, and COVID-19 all have a surface glycoprotein, the Spike Protein, not the same, but very similar.  This glycoprotein has been described as an easy target, a soft target, a big target, an accessible target, for natural immunity and for vaccines of all types.

The Spike Protein is shown in green below.

Courtesy of SIU School of Medicine

Since SARS in 2002, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has understood the potential for coronaviruses to cause pandemics.  The NIH has solicited research with RFPs (Requests For Proposals) for scientists to study such coronaviruses and their Spike Proteins.

Over the last 18 years, much has been learned, and upon the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists were ready to quickly develop vaccines specifically for COVID-19.  A very firm foundation had already been laid, and the vaccines to target the COVID-19 bummer of a birthmark, the Spike Protein, were developed quickly.

The bottom lines and my advice:

  1. The COVID-19 vaccines will be very safe.
  2. The COVID-19 vaccines will be very effective.
  3. If you are vaccinated and, in the unlikely case you still become infected with COVID-19, your illness will likely be very mild.
  4. Please receive the vaccine when it is your turn.
  5. Immunization of 70 to 75% of the population will lead to a herd immunity that will move us toward our former normal state.
  6. If your family, friends, or acquaintances express doubt about the vaccine, please correct them – firmly.
  7. Vaccines for children are not nearly ready for use yet, so make sure that all teachers in preschool, elementary schools and high schools are immunized themselves.
  8. It will take many months for the vaccines to be available to all.  There is need for great patience.

Please rest assured that all of us are working hard to receive our share of the vaccine and are making plans for distribution.

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