The COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly one of the major health tragedies that has affected the world’s population over the past century. However, in the longer term, this crisis will have had the positive impact of accelerating the development of mRNA vaccines and thus has revolutionized our future approach to all infectious diseases.
Infectious diseases have always been the main challenges that human civilizations have had to face. Plague, smallpox, syphilis, tuberculosis, measles, malaria, cholera, influenza, AIDS (and many others) are all infections that have prematurely taken countless lives in human history, and the COVID-19 19 pandemic that is currently erupting is only mostly. the latest demonstration of the destruction that some of these microbes can cause.
It is the desire to fight these diseases and save human lives that lies behind some of the greatest discoveries in the history of science. We should think only of the smallpox vaccine, developed by Edward Jenner in 1796, the identification of the first antibiotic (penicillin) by Alexander Fleming in 1928, or, finally, the explosion of knowledge on the function of the immune system caused by the search for cures for AIDS.
The overall impact of these findings on society has not been great at all, as it is the reduction of infectious disease-related mortality that is the main factor responsible for the tremendous increase in life expectancy observed over the past century.
The vaccine revolution
Even if the COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet, we can already predict that this test will have positive effects in the long run, especially in relation to vaccine development. It was this crisis that made it possible to test for the first time the new vaccine technology based on messenger RNA, with very spectacular results that exceeded expectations, both in terms of speed of development and clinical efficacy.
Recall that it took only 66 days after the release of the coronavirus sequence, in 2020, for NIH scientists to begin recruiting people in a Phase 1 clinical trial of the Modern COVID vaccine.
More than 10 billion doses of mRNA vaccines have been administered since then. By comparison, the fastest-growing vaccine to date (mumps vaccine) required two years of work before starting a clinical evaluation.
Therefore, this accelerated development of mRNA vaccines offers a significant advantage for the rapid treatment of an infectious disease and therefore represents a real revolution in our fight against these diseases.
These vaccines have radically changed the threat posed by COVID, as almost all people who have taken three doses are protected from serious illness and death, even in the face of these new variants.
Predicting future pandemics
The versatility of the mRNA platform also makes it possible to predict the development of vaccines against other pathogens. Moderna is currently working on vaccines against other viruses such as HIV, Zika and EBV (recently identified as a cause of multiple sclerosis) and plans to step up its efforts to target the 15 pathogens identified as the greatest health risks public. by WHO and CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparation Innovations).
These include chikungunya virus, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, dengue fever, Ebola, malaria, and even tuberculosis.
The strategy behind this approach is to develop these vaccines at the clinical trial stage so that they can be rapidly evaluated at stage 3 (the last stage before commercialization) in the event of an emerging epidemic. A few months saved this way can be extremely important, especially in the presence of a highly contagious infectious agent.
Therefore, it is possible that one of the most important legacies of the COVID-19 pandemic was to redefine our response strategy to the presence of an infectious agent, using mRNA technology to rapidly produce specific vaccines for these pathogens. As the old saying goes, disaster is good for something.