[Coverstory] Vaccine, the Game-Changer of 2021

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2021.03.13
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2021.03.13
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미러사
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Spending a year with the horrendous virus, 2020 was a harsh year to withstand. The COVID-19 snatched away millions of lives and this might be recorded as the most unconquerable virus of the century. There were many trials and errors we committed to return to pre-COVID life. But in front of the dominative pathogen, all of our efforts were in vain. Nevertheless, we now reached the stage of vaccination which is another new start to combat the plague.

To briefly describe the vaccine, its first usage dates back hundreds of years. Edward Jenner, an English physician and scientist, is considered to be the pioneer of vaccination. The terminology vaccine and vaccination derived from Variolae vaccinae(smallpox of the cow). In 1796 in the West, cowpox was an awful sickness, jeopardizing westerner’s lives. Jenner inoculated a 13-year-old boy with cowpox virus which is relatively milder than the smallpox and this demonstrated immunity to smallpox. Through this the systematic implementation of mass smallpox immunization was developed and culminated in ending the epidemic in 1979. Since then, the concept of vaccination is widely applied for the cure of disease.

Vaccination is the most effective method to prevent infection of disease. By inoculating inactivated pathogens or microorganisms to our body, antibodies are produced to fight against the foreign particles. Simply put, the vaccine artificially activates our immune system. Our body’s immune system requires ‘antigens’ and ‘antibodies’ for its function. When antigen, an infectious agent, invades our bodies, antibodies are produced from the B lymphocytes which are similar to the armed military force, they fight to decease the pathogens. As immune surveillance is stimulated, our body’s memory T cell remembers newly experienced immune mechanism just like its name and repeats immunogen elimination when it detects acquainted foreign molecules. This is how the vaccination works on our body. As it is a process of introducing the body to produce immunity to a specific disease, it is also called ‘immunization’. Though vaccinated, it doesn’t mean that our body is 100% free from infection. Inoculation is a training for our immune system. Thus, its functions are to prevent infection and stall the infection state from shifting to a severe acute state.

Immunization, as a preventive measurement taken before the disease occurs, allows us to acquire immunity and in a broader aspect, lets us achieve herd immunity. ‘Herd immunity’ also referred to as ‘community immunity’ is heatedly mentioned during this COVID-19 era. It is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through vaccination or previous infections, thereby reducing the likelihood of infection for individuals who lack immunity. * Herd immunity acquired through immunization functions as an ultimate factor contributing to the cessation of pandemic. Vaccination is not the final step, but rather the beginning of the termination of the disease.

*Definition of herd immunity – Wikipedia

Covid-19 vaccines those discovered until now require double injections. But why are multiple doses needed instead of a single-dose? Simply, the second round of shots boost our immune system much more efficiently, leading to the production of effective number of antibodies. The more antibodies, the better our body’s defense system can fight off the virus. Frequent exposure to small doses of virus will reinforce our memory cells so that they can effectively respond to infection. Despite their physiological efficacy, there are several factors to consider: inconvenience of rearranging for second trials of injection will be hard for workers and child caretakers and bringing logistical challenges as vaccines have to be kept in negative degree Celsius for its efficacy and travel for a long time.

The public’s opinions toward the development of vaccine are controversial. Some argue that the development was tardy. But considering the average time consumption for vaccine approval test which normally takes 10 years, the scientists and official approvement institution spurred the approval. To this acceleration, some are adducing disbelief that expedient roll-out of vaccine will cause serious side-effects. But the quick development of the vaccine for Coronavirus was possible as the scientists already possessed various vaccine platforms (a cast commonly used when producing vaccines) and due to the low mutation rate of SARS Coronavirus 2, compared to the other viruses. The vaccine production takes minimum 5 to 20 years in average. But all those longstanding procedures are shortened to a year with the speed of light. To this remarkable achievement, the professor Nam Jaehwan from Catholic University complemented that “The process of procurement for COVID-19 vaccine totally changed the history of vaccines.”

 

Passing the eventful penance of the vaccine invention, several renowned pharmaceutical companies rush to qualify their COVID-19 vaccines; AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, and Janssen are at the forefront of vaccine development, and most countries consider purchasing the vaccines in order of their economic scale and international power. Korea also signed contracts with these firms and participated in the COVAX facility, a global vaccine supply organization. Under the supervision of the COVAX facility, 180 nations and economic communities can acquire various vaccines together at lower prices like group purchase. It already offered Novavax's vaccines to Korea, and Korea's vaccine safety has risen. The pace and path regarding vaccines are different for each country. Israel's COVID-19 vaccine immunization of the population is 22.33%, which takes the first place in the world. The UK has already started inoculating the Pfizer vaccine since last year December, but their vaccination rate is still 4.19%. It's hard to affirm that these differences directly reflect the government's capability or economic scale; rather, each nation just decides according to its own situation and professional advice.

Meanwhile, Russia and China are separated from other countries; they autonomously developed the vaccine and propel inoculation. The Department of Health in Russia provided their vaccine 'Sputnik V' to citizens from last year December and China's pharmaceutical company Sinovac exports its own COVID-19 vaccine 'CoronaVac' to other countries. Why we had no consideration for their vaccines at the early stage of procurement vaccine was not the distrust of their science level, but the shortage of data. As they didn't reveal sufficient figures of clinical tests and side effects, the government understandably excluded Russia and China's vaccines. Recently, the UK began examining an approval for Russia's vaccine and some Southeast Asia countries negotiate to buy China's vaccine ‘CoranaVac.’

The Korean government officials are engrossed in COVID-19 vaccine inoculation, targeting November as a completion point. Experts predict if the COVID-19 vaccine forms herd immunity successfully it will menace us as much as the common cold does; however, it doesn't mean our everyday life can be impeccably revived. Even if the airport livens up as before, we may need to carry a 'vaccine passport.' Only people who received a COVID-19 vaccine will get it; it will exempt us from compulsory quarantine and we can enjoy gentle and convenient travel. A coalition of IT companies called VCI, short for Vaccination Credential Initiative, already started discussing the invention of the vaccine passport; global IT companies Microsoft and Oracle belong to VCI. They aim for an absolute immunity assurance which helps individuals safely return to business, amusement, and career. As each country requires disparate conditions for entry and regulations, setting a universal standard is the paramount concern. How to protect privacy is another matter; they proposed the vaccine passport's form as a digital QR code or application, which may be vulnerable to hacking and personal information leakage. Some even said vaccine passport intensifies the vaccination gap. Even if the COVID-19 is a severe situation regardless of the nation or economic scale, the vaccine as merchandise isn't fair. Even only developed countries can produce and buy vaccines, developing countries have no choice but to wait for vaccines. Furthermore, vaccines can be misused as a political tool and alienate socially disadvantaged classes like refugees. We already lost significant values, people, and the world we enjoyed; there is no time to weigh ridiculous profits against precious lives. Already last December, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres pleaded the world to “ensure that vaccines are treated as a global public good”, so that vaccines are “accessible and affordable” to everyone as COVID-19 is. If the imbalance of vaccines between countries and classes isn’t rectified, the vaccine passport will realize it and split us into a new hierarchy of who can approach the vaccine and who can’t.

How can we deal with the COVID-19 vaccine? Both understanding and beneficially utilizing the vaccine itself are another unimagined hardship. But the good news is that we already learned valuable lessons from the COVID-19. Professor Kim Yeongho from the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy from Sungshin University said "COVID-19 became a chance to perceive each independent nation is still important in the era of globalization.” As the professor mentioned, we should efficiently cope with COVID-19 by ourselves; at the same time, with solidarity, thoughtful deliberation on the distribution and influence of the vaccine is still needed. The vaccine is not the panacea. It's us that make or break the herd immunity and the world after vaccination.


By Chaiwon Kim Editor-in-Chief (chaiiwonn@gmail.com) & Hyeyeong Kim Deputy Editor-in-Chief (hykim567@naver.com)


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