WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — In the United States alone, 200,000 deaths have been linked to COVID-19, making the race for a vaccine as urgent as ever.
In recent weeks, there have been positive signs from pharmaceutical companies that scientists are getting closer to developing a vaccine. Meanwhile, antibody testing continues to be critical to detect the virus.
To begin understanding why antibody testing is so important to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, you must understand that antibodies are proteins produced by your immune system.
“So our immune system is a complex network of cells, or organs, or tissues and when the virus enters, we provide an immune response to that, proteins to that,” Glen Hansen, Ph.D., a microbiologist at HCMC in Minneapolis, Minnesota told Eyewitness News.
One of the main focuses of vaccine research is the spike protein. It is the sole protein on the novel coronavirus surface and is the common target for vaccines because of its neutralizing antibodies.
“We know that the spike is essential for how the virus enters cells in the body. It is a key mechanism to provide infection in the body,” Hansen said.
What this means is the antibodies interfere with the ability of the virus to dock onto human cells and infect them.
In June, medical technology company Siemens Healthineers received FDA emergency use authorization for its COVID antibody test. It’s considered an important puzzle piece to detect the virus when accuracy is paramount.
“There’s two components to measuring that and that’s sensitivity and specificity. Roughly speaking what that means is if there are antibodies present that you want to have a test that definitively confirms it,” President of Laboratory Diagnostics, Siemens Healthineers at Deepak Nath, Ph.D. said.
With detecting the spike protein achieved, the key is to now disrupt the virus’ ability to dock onto and infect human cells.
“Many of the components of the vaccines, the contemporary vaccines, are targeting spike because we believe it provides a high degree of immunogenicity which is protection or targeting of the virus to make an effective vaccine,” Hansen said.
Indications are the FDA will withhold emergency authorization of a potential COVID-19 vaccine until after 40 days of administering that second dose during drug trials. This will allow enough time to monitor for potential side effects but it also means a vaccine probably won’t be any earlier than the first half of 2021.
When a vaccine becomes available, children will not be eligible to receive it as potential vaccines are currently being tested on adults.