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How the COVID-19 vaccine was created so quickly

Posted at 8:43 PM, Dec 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-14 23:11:17-05

MAGIC VALLEY — With hospitals across the nation receiving the COVID-19 vaccine this week, some people are curious about how a vaccine was created so quickly, and a biological science professor says it's because they had a head start.

"They started working on a vaccine in January for a similar virus, and they had promising results in the lab indicating that they might be a good vaccine strategy," Tanya Miura, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Idaho, said.

Although they had a head start on creating this vaccine, Miura says the vaccine's timing is unprecedented.

"I don't know if there has ever been a situation like this where we are in the middle of an outbreak, and a vaccine is released. This is pretty novel," Miura said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, some people who had already contracted the virus were being reinfected, and Miura says this caused health officials some problems creating the vaccine.

"With normal vaccine development, it's usually helpful to know what is an effective immune response within a person against a virus to be able to design a vaccine that does the same thing. In the case of COVID-19, we didn't have that information when they started developing the vaccine," Miura said.

The process of creating this vaccine was offbeat compared to the operation of previous vaccines.

"What they did that's a little unusual is instead of using an inactivated virus or a whole viral protein, they took the genetic code that's used to generate the protein and delivered that into the vaccine recipient," Miura said.

Miura says, in order to build herd immunity, more than 70 percent of the population will need to be vaccinated, and it is hard to tell how long that will take.

"With this virus, it is contagious enough that we would need much higher than 50 percent I would say between 70-90 percent of the population would need to be vaccinated to stop it from spreading," Miura said.

Idaho is expected to receive more than 13,000 doses of the vaccine this week, and one St. Luke's doctor says he has high hopes for the vaccine.

"The efficacy, the effectiveness of this vaccine has been very promising. We have had no serious, adverse events that were in the vaccine arms vs. those in the placebo arms," Sky Blue, Infectious Disease Specialist for St. Luke's Regional Medical Center, said.