As South Africa emerges from the third wave of the Covid pandemic, all efforts are being channelled into encouraging more people to be vaccinated.
Although South Africa has sufficient vaccines, some people have very real concerns when choosing not to vaccinate.
One of these relates to the speed at which the vaccine was developed and rolled out. Just over a year after the virus was identified, the first person was vaccinated in the UK.
This causes a lot of anxiety. There are several factors which have enabled the rapid development of the vaccine, which is both effective and safe.
Once the outbreak was identified as a coronavirus – albeit a new form – scientists around the world were able to use research they already had to develop a vaccine.
The platforms used were well established for many decades and scientists were able to pivot these platforms.
These platforms also had information about safety.
Covid is part of the family of coronavirus’ which cause influenza, so scientists were already ahead of the game, with decades of research that could be used.
For the first time, technology and political will came together to enable global collaboration that allowed scientists to share insights into how their experiments were going.
Once success was seen in the laboratory and all the safety protocols and approvals were gained, global clinical trials began.
Thousands of volunteers of different ages, races and ethnicities participated. Although there was urgency to find a successful vaccine, none of the testing phases were skipped.
In the development process, mRNA technology was shown to be very effective. The mRNA vaccines can be developed quickly, cost-effectively and can be administered safely.
It is also very adaptable and scientists can quickly adapt the formulae to respond to new variants.
The mRNA vaccine does not enter the nucleus of your cells and cannot change them. Rather it “teaches” the body’s immune system to manufacture a copy of the virus’ “spike” protein, which it then recognises and begins to create antibodies.
If exposed to the actual virus, the body recalls how to trigger this immune response.
The vaccine does not remain in the body.
Once it begins “teaching” your body to recognise the virus, it begins to disintegrate, usually within two to three days of being vaccinated.
We know with certainty the vaccine is safe and can prevent serious illness and death.
- Gray is president and chief executive of the South African Medical Research Council