Coronavirus vaccine: why phase III was reached so quickly


3 reasons why the short development time does not necessarily make vaccines suspicious

The fact that the vaccine went so quickly can be explained by the large amount of testing required and the advances in molecular biology.

christoph bopp / ch media

Three vaccines are about to be approved. Image: keystone

Three vaccines (Pfizer / Biontech, Moderna and AstraZeneca / Oxford) against Sars-CoV-2 have crossed the finish line for production. If you add the Chinese (Sinopharm) and the Russian (Sputnik V), it would be five. All manufacturers report that the vaccine reliably elicits an immune reaction and that there have not yet been any serious side effects. So far, all reports of success have only been press releases. That means: not yet scientifically assessed.

The numbers that are mentioned are nevertheless considerable. All vaccines were tested on several thousand volunteers in phase III. What you don’t know – and that applies to all vaccines – are three things: How long does the protective effect last? Are there any long-term effects? And: Are there – serious – side effects that only appear much later?

ADE doesn’t mean “Adieu” here

In terms of long-term effects, it is feared that so-called infection-enhancing antibodies (antibody dependent enhancement, ADE) could occur. The vaccination does produce antibodies against the virus, but only those that bind to the virus and do not inhibit it sufficiently, but rather weaken the effect of the neutralizing antibodies. A second infection would then be even stronger due to the vaccination that does not protect.

The phenomenon was discovered in a subtype of the dengue fever virus. Among other things, Marburg and Ebola viruses are said to react similarly, so far there are no indications for coronaviruses.

And the side effects?

One cannot yet know anything about side effects that occur later in the life of a vaccinated person. It is feared that the mRNA method could cause this. With her, the “building instructions” – virus gene information – for the protein that serves as an antigen is injected. The vaccination uses a process that takes place continuously: The cell should initiate protein synthesis. The mRNA is then broken down.

And if she stayed, she probably couldn’t do anything other than what she was injected for: induce immunity to Sars-CoV-2.

Yuck: genetic material in the vaccine! The objection sounds similar to: I don’t want any chemistry in my body! Unfortunately, not much else happens there.

So unusually fast and therefore dubious?

It would take years to find a vaccine, it was said at the beginning of the pandemic. Now, after a year, five vaccines are already being tested. Was the work dubious? There are reasons that explain the speed. The effort for Phase III, the testing on volunteers, was unprecedented. Recruiting and organizing several thousand volunteers in several countries is something only pharmaceutical multinationals can do. And they did it this time.

The early molecular biological findings from China contributed to the research. The virus was recognized early on and its genome was sequenced soon after. It was also unusually early on how the virus worked.

For traditional vaccines, which consist of weakened or dead viruses, the pathogens first had to be bred in hatched chicken eggs (for example, influenza viruses) or other colonies in order to be able to experiment at all. (


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