Today, there is no vaccine or drug that bites the new Coronavirus. But research is going on in several places in the world. Also in Sweden.
The vast majority of infected are Chinese, but major outbreaks have also been reported from Italy and Iran and it is spreading across the world.
What animal that has spread the new coronavirus to humans is yet unclear. What is known is that the virus is found in bats and that it was probably transmitted from the bats to one of the wild animals sold on the market in the Chinese city of Wuhan. A city that is currently in quarantine, as well as two more cities in the same province, several villages in Vietnam and the Japanese cruise ship Diamond Princess
Rapid spread in China
The spread in China has been very fast. In contrast, China’s measures of isolating entire cities have meant that we do not see the global spread that we would otherwise have seen. If the outbreak had occurred in, say, Bangkok, we would have seen a much faster spread.
On January 21, a man from Hove, England, was at a sales conference in Singapore. One of the participants came from Wuhan, China. The Englishman, and the virus he now carried, then went skiing in the French Alps. There he infected five people. Once at home in England he went to the local pub where at least four people were infected.
Infected without symptoms
In the media, the man has been called a “super spreader”, which refers to people who are infected without knowing any symptoms themselves. It was only after one of the other participants in the conference was confirmed infected that the man tested himself.
That people can be infected without having any symptoms is one of the factors that can turn an epidemic into a pandemic. If the coronavirus is infected during the incubation period, we do not know yet.
Why we had to stop the SARS outbreak in 2003 was because everyone who got infected got symptoms. This can either end by itself as a SARS or develop into a pandemic.
SARS died out of itself
SARS is another member of the corona family that spread throughout the world 2003-2004. A total of 8,000 were infected, including 750. Just as during the SARS outbreak, researchers are now working to develop a vaccine against the new member of the corona family. At that time, the researchers did not reach phase 1, that is, a first attempt on humans, before the epidemic died out of itself.
Epidemic or pandemic?
An epidemic is an outbreak of an infectious disease that spreads rapidly within a certain group or area. The infection turns into a pandemic when it spreads across much of the world and affects a large portion of the population of each country. During the 1900s, three pandemic outbreaks occurred; Spanish Disease (1918-1920), the Asian (1957-1958) and the Hong Kong flu (1968-1970). 40 years later, humanity was affected by the latest pandemic, Swine Flu (2009-2010). At the end of January, the WHO announced an international emergency due to the new coronavirus, among other things because the outbreak poses a threat to more than one country and requires an international coordinated effort. The outbreak has also been classified as a pandemic.
How quickly the new vaccine is produced depends in part on whether the WHO classifies the outbreak as a pandemic. The World Health Organization has learned from the swine flu when it was accused of exaggerating the health threat. At that time, the vaccination plan only took into account the spread and not the severity of the infection.
Research is ongoing, mainly in China, the USA, and England. At least three pharmaceutical companies are involved in the work; GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi.
The immune system remembers and goes to attack
There are basically two methods of producing a vaccine. One is to grow the virus in cell cultures. When you have a sufficient amount, the infectious agent is killed by heat, formalin or radiation and injected into the body where it triggers the immune system. When the real virus tries to infect cells, the immune system remembers the reaction and goes into attack.
The second method works according to the same principle. But instead of killed viruses, the virus’s genes produced synthetically, are used. The advantage is that it goes faster.
How fast it can go is so far unclear. For the swine flu, it didn’t take more than a couple of months before the vaccine could start being injected. This was when the virus belonged to the flu family where there was already a production with large factories that grow vaccines in eggs.
The risk of side effects
For coronaviruses, there is no production line that can be changed, although some lessons can be learned from the work on a vaccine against the SARS outbreak and MERS-Corona. Getting the vaccine itself can go fast, a couple of weeks have been mentioned, but then it should be tested. First on animals, then on humans. There is always a risk of side effects. Especially when you have to act quickly and not have time to do all safety tests.
The vaccine that will first be tested in phase 1 is probably some type of genetic vaccine and there is the risk of side effects of what we have seen so far small.