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A Look at Current COVID Vaccines and Those Coming. OH Really?

This week's first and only question has a very involved answer. Barbara Buser from Brunswick Hills asks, "There are various types of vaccines being developed: how are we to know which one is best?"

WKSU's Jeff St. Clair has been covering the development and deployment of the coronavirus vaccine, so I asked him about the different ones available now and ones that may become available in the future.

"The first vaccines available right now work with a new technique that’s never been approved before, using messenger RNA. And they're very elegant, simple vaccines," St. Clair said.

"A little bit of messenger RNA that codes for the spike protein is encapsulated in a little fatty droplet -- a nanoparticle that goes into your body and is absorbed immediately into your cells, which begin producing the spike protein. I am likening these to a ‘Tesla’: it's really cool and slick, but the only problem is that you can't plug it in everywhere," St. Clair said.

"These new vaccines require ultra cold freezers and not every clinic has the ability to stock these Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. So, they're really cool and slick, but they're really maybe not practical for everywhere.”

In the pipeline

“The next ones in the pipeline are the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. These work in a very different way. They have a cold virus; it's called adenovirus. One is from a chimpanzee -- the AstraZeneca one -- and the Johnson & Johnson one I believe is the human adenovirus.

“And these are disabled and they are able to stick the genetic material for the spike protein of the virus inside these adenoviruses and then that delivers it," St. Clair said

"It’s called a viral vector, it goes down on to your cell, and like all viruses it’s very good at injecting its genetic material inside. And then it dies off. Instead of producing more copies of itself, it produces the spike protein.”

Future vaccines

“Two companies are also making a protein-based vaccine which just puts fragments of the spike protein into your body, so it skips the step of your body producing the antigen and instead just puts the intrusion right inside," St. Clair said.

"Novavax and Sanofi are the two companies working on this, and both of them are part of Operation Warp Speed. It's an $18 billion program that the federal government has put together on rapid vaccine development.

"The only company not taking government money is Pfizer, and they were the first out of the gate. But all these other companies are taking billions of dollars to develop these vaccines," St. Clair said.

"The Sanofi vaccine has run into some issues in that it doesn't really work that well. The Novavax one is coming along pretty well, so let's fast-forward 4-5 months from now when you're in line to get a vaccine: it probably won't be the slick ‘Tesla’ vaccine that is out right now; it's going to be ‘the Chevy’ – the other ones I've talked about. Those are the ones that, I think, are more likely going to be available to the general public.”

Side effects

“They have slightly different safety profiles. You might get a different reaction from one vaccine to another. I don't think any of these, so far, have been approved for children, pregnant women, or people with allergic conditions. So there are segments of the population who aren't even on the list to get vaccinated," St. Clair said.

"A couple of [the companies], though, are beginning testing for children: I think Pfizer, Moderna, and perhaps some of the others are beginning trials that include kids over 11 years old. But those aren't approved yet, so it's changing. There are still lots of things in the works in terms of getting the population vaccinated.”

You can read Jeff’s latest story on choosing a vaccine here. And if you have a question about coronavirus, ask “OH Really?”

To sign up for Summit County's vaccine registery, click here.

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