Vaccines and medicines are indispensable in the fight against the virus
On February 27 2020, the first person in The Netherlands tested positive for the coronavirus. Less than two weeks later, COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic. During the pandemic, universities, hospitals, governments and drug companies worldwide are working together to research and develop new vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for COVID-19. Two years later, multiple vaccines and medicines are widely available that meet the stringent European requirements of safety, efficacy and quality. This is due to the efforts of many.
What normally takes 12 years, now succeeded within 11 months. A great achievement, which is the result of extreme efforts and cooperation between authorities, science and industry. Quality, effectiveness and safety are always paramount, even in times of a pandemic.
Because of the severity and scope of the situation, drug companies, hospitals, scientists, authorities and governments did everything possible to develop a good vaccine as quickly as possible. By temporarily halting other work, corona vaccines could be prioritized.
For example, corona vaccines were given the highest priority by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The EMA looked at (interim) results not after, but during the research phases – so-called rolling reviews. This has led to a significant acceleration.
The manufacturing of a vaccine is a long and complicated process with many checks and balances, which take place in fit for purpose production facilities. Normally, setting up takes about three to four years, including the time to arrange permits. It has been much faster now, in part because manufacturers were already starting their production before there was approval. This carried the risk that all produced products would have to be destroyed if approval did not follow.
To meet the global demand for vaccines, vaccine developers are scaling up production to the maximum extent. They are also entering into collaborations with other drug companies, including competitors, and manufacturing partners. By February 2022, 173 factories in 47 countries across the globe were involved in vaccine production.
Many vaccines are still being developed. New vaccines, including modified ones, may be needed against new variants of the virus. In addition, vaccines that are easier to use are being developed. Think of other storage temperatures and administration methods, such as via a band aid or nasal spray.
A vaccine contains pieces of bacteria or viruses, or weakened forms of them. When these enter the body, they are recognized by our immune system. That system makes substances to make the vaccines harmless. After a while, when the body is confronted with these viruses or bacteria, the immune system comes into action.
A vaccine can provide immunity in several ways. RNA and DNA vaccines use a piece of the genetic material of the COVID-19 virus. After injection, this material is used to make a viral protein, which the immune system responds to. Other vaccines consist of a viral protein (protein subunit vaccines) or inactivated virus.
The research for a drug against COVID-19 can be divided into three categories of pharmaceuticals.
Category I – drugs that can affect the body’s response to infection. These include drugs that are anti-inflammatory or strengthen the immune system.
Category II – drugs that aim for elimination or neutralization of the virus. For example, by interfering with the reproduction of a virus. The so-called antiviral drugs.
Category III – vaccines are preventive in that the vaccine induces an immune response, which creates immunity to COVID-19. This immune response ensures that the body is resistant to subsequent infection.
People can become ill or even die from COVID-19. Vaccines can protect people from some of these pathogens. Vaccines do this by boosting the body’s immune system against that disease.
When the body encounters these viruses or bacteria a while after vaccination, the immune system goes into action. This reduces the chance of getting sick. As a result, the chance of being hospitalized as a vaccinated person due to illness caused by infection decreases.
Thanks to vaccines, the number of deaths from infectious diseases has been greatly reduced. As a result, diseases such as whooping cough, tetanus and polio have been virtually eradicated in the Netherlands. To keep it that way, it is important to vaccinate as many people as possible.
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