From lab to community immunity
Three paths to a vaccine for COVID-19
Marc Jenkins, Ph.D., has an optimistic prediction about COVID-19: “We’ll have a vaccine soon,” he says. “I think next year.”
Since the pandemic began, Jenkins, who directs the University’s Center for Immunology and is a Regents and Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the Medical School Department of Microbiology and Immunology, had his finger on the pulse of vaccine development efforts the world over, including at his own institution.
More than 100 vaccine projects in various stages across the globe take subtly different approaches to achieving the same goal: trigger the body’s immune response to COVID-19 before the virus has an opportunity to spread and cause harm.
Vaccines teach the body how to make the specialized proteins, known as antibodies, that are needed to defeat a virus. Once a person has these antibodies, they usually stay in that individual’s blood for life, creating immunity to the virus moving forward.
Some viruses, like influenza, are able to mutate, which is why we have to get a different flu shot every fall, says Jenkins, who was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences earlier this year.
Luckily, he says, COVID-19’s mutating powers appear to be limited.
“Thanks to vaccines, we’ve come close to eradicating other diseases entirely, like polio,” he says. “Most of what I see in COVID-19 tells me it’s like that.”
Click on the numbers below to find out how a few of the most promising approaches work.
ILLUSTRATION BY ANDREW BAKER