Featured Story: The Ins and Outs of Vaccines
The following article was written by the Everyday Med Team.
In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals are constantly wondering when social distancing, hand sanitizers, and masks will finally come to an end with the development of a vaccine. A vaccine is a solution that helps the body build immunity to certain viruses. This modified virus reproduces at around twenty times, whereas an unaltered virus reproduces at tens of thousands of times, making it easier for the body to fight the virus. The internal purpose of a vaccine is to help T-cells develop memory in what the actual virus may look like by combatting weaker versions of the virus. Vaccine developers can produce viruses in three possible ways: inactive viruses, weakened viruses, and bacteria.
Inactive viruses are dead viruses and do not have the potential to reproduce. While inactive viruses are present, they are not actively multiplying and hosting on other cells. Thus, “when T-cells recognize a foreign particle, they have a memory of how to combat and destroy the actual virus” (The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 2014). In addition, there is a low possibility for viruses to be reactivated. However, if the virus were to be reactivated, there would be little to no symptoms.
Next, weakened viruses are only a fraction of the actual virus. Viruses are made out of certain proteins. Viruses contain messenger RNA (mRNA) which is DNA that can leave the nucleus and enter different parts of the cell. The RNA leaves the cell and enters the healthy cell where ribosomes — of the cell that produce proteins — replicate that DNA and multiply. The RNA leaves the cell and infects other cells, spreading the virus rapidly. Weaken viruses do not spread rapidly. They will multiply a few times, but the immune system should eliminate the virus completely.
Bacteria is another way that vaccines can be developed. Scientists take out what makes bacteria harmful and use that as a vaccine for viruses that are difficult to become inactive or weakened. CRISPR technology is used in developing modifying DNA. CRISPR utilizes bacteriophages, also known as phage. A Phage virus-bacteria is like a blank slate for scientists to genetically modify and shape it to a vaccine.
Vaccines are made in many different ways using different components, but most vaccines are composed of inactive viruses, weakened viruses, or bacteria. Vaccines are created to build immunity and help prevent people from catching diseases. While many vaccines work to stop the spread of viruses, “it does not eliminate the fact that the virus is still present” (Chow, 2020) Vaccine development takes time and requires a lot of testing and variables developers need to take into account. The spread of a virus is similar to dropping a red dye in a container of clear water. At first, it remains still and stays in place, however, the dye quickly diffuses to the entire volume of water, making it difficult to stop spreading. However, if you put a lid on top, it lowers the potential of the dye even falling into the water, much like what vaccines do to the human body.
Begley, Sharon. “Vaccines Don’t Work against Some Viruses. CRISPR Might Fix That.” STAT, 19 Feb. 2019, www.statnews.com/2019/02/19/crispr-might-work-when-vaccines-fail/
Chow, Denise. “Why Are Viruses Hard to Kill? Virologists Explain Why These Tiny Parasites Are so Tough to Treat.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 8 May 2020, www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/why-are-viruses-hard-kill-virologists-explain-why-these-tiny-n1202046
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “How Are Vaccines Made?” Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 19 Nov. 2014, www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center/making-vaccines/how-are-vaccines-made
Article written by Serena To, edited by Rachel Glantzberg, graphics by Samantha Gu, group advised by Ruhi Sahu