Behind the scenes part three: Vaccination and immunity


Dr Alexandra Bernhardi

Health Columnist

Email Dr. Alexandra
Last updated:
Dr Alexandra Bernhardi gives some background medical insight into when there might be a vaccine and how effective it may be.

Going through all the different research and media reports since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak (and despite hopeful discoveries implying otherwise) it seems safe to conclude that a vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 might still not be available for some time.

In February this year the WHO estimated 18 months for a vaccine to become publicly available, taking into consideration that historically it takes two to five years for a new vaccine to be developed.

- Behind the scenes part one: testing for coronavirus
- Behind the scenes part two: where are we at with treatments for coronavirus SARS-CoV-2?

Professor Ian Frazer from the University of Queensland emphasises that this particular coronavirus is posing challenges that scientists haven't dealt with before as SARS-CoV-2 is targeting the inner lining of the lungs, which is effectively considered an external surface for the purpose of immunisation.

"It's a bit like trying to get a vaccine to kill a virus on the surface of your skin" he explains.

There are dozens of different vaccine designs, but to develop an effective vaccine we need to first understand the virus and the specific immune reaction it triggers.

A common misconception is to believe that all viruses and bacteria induce a similar immune response in the body. The reality is, that our immune system is quite complex and many factors influence a particular reaction.

And even if one of the hundreds of research facilities all over the world has found a model that might work in animal studies, it is still a while to go to prove safety and effectiveness in smaller and then larger human studies.

Will a vaccine, once developed, protect us 100%?

The answer is very likely “No”, as there is to date simply no vaccine at all with a 100% effectiveness. Let’s have a look at the influenza vaccine for example:

The first simple flu vaccine was invented in 1938 and then further developed year after year up to the current standards, and yet, in general, influenza vaccine effectiveness has been found to vary between 30-60%, according to the Department of Health. However, even despite this seemingly low number, influenza vaccination still plays an important role to prevent larger outbreaks.

Will all people develop a lasting immunity after being exposed to COVID-19?

Without larger studies we cannot reliably determine the level or duration of immunity the disease leaves behind.

It would be safe to assume though that immunity will vary between different individuals. The strains of coronavirus causing the common cold for example typically induce only a very weak and short immunity.

So, what does this mean for us now in regards to COVID-19?

As it is nearly impossible to eradicate the virus simultaneously around the world, under a public health point of view, it is still paramount for us to find a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2.

However, as individuals, we should not sit idle at home waiting for news, but rather take matters in our own hands.

Because what we do know as a fact is that chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease are compromising our immune system and therefore increasing our risk of not being able to fight off viruses such as SARS-CoV-2.

We also know that these conditions by far and large are preventable and in many cases could be reversed through the adaptation of a primarily plant based whole food diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep.

As Professor Brendan Murphy, Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, emphasised, it is important that people with medical conditions continue to consult with their GP and continue to work on improving their underlying health issues.

So maybe we can see the corona-crisis as an opportunity to tackle some of the root causes of our ill health rather than leaving it up to our public health system to fix it?

Newsport Community Service Support:

Business support line: | 13 28 46

Small or medium business with reduced cash flow?
Here’s what we’re doing to boost your cash flow.

Is your business financially distressed?
This is what we’re doing to support you.

Assisting the economic recovery
Here’s how we’ll support you to grow.

Employ an apprentice or trainee?
This support is for you.

Are you a sole trader that has lost business?
This is what we’re doing to support you and your business.

Household finances hit by reduced work?
Here’s what we’re doing to help support your family budget.

Letters to the Editor. Do you have an opinion or point of view you'd like to share on one of our stories or a community issue? Please submit here.

* Readers are encouraged to use their full details to ensure letter legitimacy. Letters are the opinions of readers and do not represent the views of Newsport or its staff. Letters containing unlawful, obscene, defamatory or abusive material will not be published.

Got a great news tip or video? We'd love to see it. Send news tips to editornewsport.comau

* Comments are the opinions of readers and do not represent the views of Newsport or its staff.
Reader comments on this site are moderated before publication to promote valuable, civil, and healthy community debate. Our moderation takes into consideration these guidelines and rules before comments are approved for publication.