Is There a COVID-19 Vaccine on the Horizon? What You Need to Know Now
You do not have to be following the news closely to know that one of the leading headlines this week is the impending arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine. While there has been no vaccine that has moved past the experimental and trial phases yet, all of the signs are pointing to a vaccination becoming available by the end of the year.
While health experts have been on a mission to assure the public that any vaccine that makes it past the trial phases will be safe to use, there are understandably a lot of questions surrounding the issue. Here are a few things to keep in mind about vaccines so that you feel more confident in your decision-making abilities regarding whether to choose the option for you and your family.
How Vaccines Boost the Immune System
A quality vaccine will immediately boost the body's immune system, helping to fight off the virus before it takes hold. This occurs when the immune system recognizes the invading bacteria or virus. The recognition will happen regardless of if the body has seen that microbe in the past.
A vaccine is made from weakened or dead pieces of microbes. Because the virus particles are dead or severely weakened, they are not able to actually cause an infection. However, it tricks the immune system by making it think that the infection has occurred.
Once the vaccination has been administered, the immune system begins to intuitively make antibodies for the markers located on the specific microbe. The body will then begin to act more quickly and effectively if it meets the microbe again, helping you to avoid becoming sick from the virus.
How Vaccines Produce Herd Immunity
In addition to helping the body to respond to an invading virus, a vaccination will also work to encourage herd immunity. This happens because the vaccine prevents people from passing the virus or bacteria to others. Because there is not as much transmission happening between people, you are also protecting others in your community when you receive a vaccination. This community herd immunity is instrumental in protecting those who are too young to be vaccinated or those who cannot receive a vaccination due to weakened immune systems or other underlying health conditions.
Vaccine Testing and Approval Process
Similar to any type of medication or procedure, a potential vaccination must be put through a strict testing and approval process before being released to the public. While there are various sub-stages within this grouping, here are the three general stages that a vaccine must adhere to prior to release.
- Exploratory Stage - During this beginning stage, medical researchers are simply trying to learn more about the specific bacteria or virus so that they can better understand how they work. The majority of this research is performed in a laboratory setting.
- Preclinical Stage - The preclinical stage is when scientists use animals, such as mice or rats, to test the potential vaccines. If the vaccination proves to generate an immune response in the test animal, they will then monitor any possible side effects. This stage must be performed before the vaccination can move to the human trial portion of the testing process.
- Clinical Trials - Once the testing on the animals has been cleared, it is time to roll out the testing on humans. This process occurs in stages, gradually increasing the number of healthy adults that are receiving the vaccination. During these trials, the individuals are carefully monitored for adverse side effects. A control group will receive a placebo so that the researchers can hone in on the efficacy of the vaccination.
After the first few phases of clinical trials, the vaccination will then go up for regulatory review and approval. This process varies from country to country. In the US, this approval is carried out by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Even after the vaccine is approved and distributed, the FDA will continue to monitor its safety and effectiveness.
Keeping abreast of all of the COVID-19 vaccination developments will help you to feel more empowered and informed about what you should do when the vaccine becomes available for use to the general public. Understanding the strict development and testing process will also help you to feel more secure about the safety of the vaccinations when they are released.
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