After a gruelling year of successive waves of Covid-19 infections and national lockdowns there has been a burst of good news this month, with three separate vaccine candidates performing extremely well in clinical trials.
First, Pfizer and Moderna announced that their vaccines were testing at an efficacy of around 95%. Then came the news that the AstraZeneca vaccine (the one pre-ordered in bulk by the UK government) was hitting 90%. It marks not just a new phase in the Covid-19 pandemic but potentially a revolution in vaccine technology itself.
As the Guardian’s health editor, Sarah Boseley, tells Anushka Asthana, the science of mRNA – one of the building blocks of life – is the key to the success of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. By synthesising a replica of the distinctive coronavirus “spike protein”, the body mounts an immune response that fights off the virus. It’s a technology being used by Robin Shattock at Imperial College London, who tells Anushka that his lab is also hopeful of producing an effective Covid-19 vaccine. But beyond that, the breakthroughs made this year could hold the key to fighting cancer and other deadly diseases in the future.
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