COVID-19 Vaccines Explained
In case you missed it, multiple COVID-19 vaccines — all in Phase III clinical trials — have been classed as highly effective in preventing infection.
If proven to be medically sound, these vaccines will make history as the fastest ever to go from conception to production - a massive victory for scientific researchers across the world that have hunkered down and worked tirelessly to beat a deadly pandemic that has claimed 1.9 million lives globally.
How Do They Work?
In general, vaccines enable your immune system to identify, react to, and recognize a virus so that you don't get infected in the future.
Two COVID-19 vaccines that have created headlines, from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, use messenger RNA (mRNA) — a cell's guidance for making a protein.
Using COVID-19 mRNA, our cells generate a safe coronavirus protein. The immune system eliminates the protein and remembers it so that our body knows how to battle this infection if it detects it again.
Another COVID-19 vaccine, from Janssen Pharmaceutica, also uses the same mechanism with the exception being instructions being stored in double-stranded DNA.
The Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine from the UK is made from a genetically engineered virus that causes the common cold in chimpanzees. The vaccine has been altered to mimic the coronavirus, allowing the immune system to produce antibodies to help fight any future infections.
U.S.-based Novavax inserted the gene for the spike protein related to COVID-19 into moth cells, which produced the spikes on their cell membranes.
Scientists then harvested the spike proteins and mixed them with a synthetic soaplike particle in which the spikes embed. Saponin, a compound derived from trees, serves as an immunity booster.
Positive Test Results
On interim analysis, vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna showed high rates of protection (up to 95 percent) against COVID-19.
Collectively, Phase III trials of five advanced vaccines have registered over 200,000 people, including people 65 and older, those with lifelong conditions in acute danger from COVID-19 infection, and historically underrepresented communities.
When will vaccines be available in New Zealand?
The New Zealand government recently provided an update on the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in the country. The Ministry of Health has procured 15 million vaccine doses, enough for every New Zealander, as well as Tokelau, Niue, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu residents.
Pfizer/BioNTech, Janssen Pharmaceutica, AstraZeneca, and Novavax will supply the vaccines that will roll out in mid-2021.
"A number of factors will influence who will receive what vaccines and when, such as trial data on the suitability of each vaccine for certain age groups," says Chris Hipkins, Minister of Health.
Preparations were underway to arrange for the logistical challenges posed by New Zealand's largest-ever immunisation programme.
Parkinson's New Zealand will be advocating for early vaccine availability for people with Parkinson's, given many are older and some have vulnerabilities, such as trouble swallowing or significantly decreased mobility, that may increase the risk for more severe COVID-19 infection.
If you have questions about a vaccine's potential benefits or risks specific to you and your situation, speak with a doctor, health professional, or one of our Parkinson's Nurses.
Please be aware of rampant misinformation making the rounds regarding vaccines, and do take any dubious information you may see on social media (or possibly hear on the radio) with a grain of salt.
Until a vaccine is widely available in New Zealand, please remember to maintain precautions, such as regular handwashing and social distancing, to protect yourself and your whānau.
Source: NZ Ministry of Health, "COVID-19: Vaccine planning"
BBC press release dated December 2, 2020, "Covid-19: Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine judged safe for use in UK"
Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research press release dated November 30, 2020, "Positive News for COVID-19 Vaccines: What Does It Mean for the Parkinson’s Community?"