After months of battling COVID-19, many parts of the United States are experiencing increased community spread of the disease. Mask requirements, physical distancing and virtual working and learning have become the new reality for many of us.
While the disease doesn’t appear to be slowing down, scientists may have good news on the prevention front. More than 150 vaccine candidates are in development with 44 in human trials.
Early vaccine results show promise
When your body fights off an infection, your immune system produces antibodies against it. Later, these proteins can help identify similar infections so your immune system can fight them off more effectively. Vaccines use this technique to train your body to identify and kill off infections you’ve had before.
Interim study results released July 14 by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health suggested that two doses of the vaccine mRNA-1273 over four weeks provide a significant immune response against COVID-19.
The experimental vaccine also resulted in people developing more neutralizing antibodies than in patients who had recovered from COVID-19. Only time will tell if this vaccine will be more successful at preventing the disease than by simply recovering from it and producing natural antibodies.
While the phase 1 study is reporting results from only a handful of young and healthy participants, the vaccine has quickly moved into phase 2 testing. A 30,000-participant phase 3 trial kicked off on July 27. The signal to watch for is if early promising results also apply to older adults and those with weak immune systems, without too many side effects.
Across the pond in the U.K, another vaccine garnering attention is ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, or the “Oxford vaccine.” Developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, the vaccine produced infection-fighting killer T cells and antibodies for at least two months. The phase 1 study included more than 1,000 U.K. participants, and is in a phase 3 trial in Brazil, South Africa, and the United States.
Is antibody testing useful?
Because of testing delays and the range of COVID-19 symptoms, some patients don’t know whether they’ve had COVID-19 or if they have antibodies against it. This is why antibody testing has become important.
Scientists are learning that after a person is infected with COVID-19, it can take up to three weeks for them to develop enough antibodies to be detected in a test. About 80-90% of patients with confirmed infection go on to develop antibodies, and levels may decrease and become undetectable after a few months -- so this is not a perfect signal of past COVID exposure.
Waning antibodies against the disease might mean people are once again susceptible to COVID, and a reinfection among those who believe they are immune could lead to further spread of the disease to others.
Hopes are that the vaccines in development can boost your immune system and the antibodies against COVID-19 is better than having the infection itself.
Coping during a pandemic
While many accepted the physical distancing guidelines during the first few months of COVID, we are now realizing this pandemic will likely last into 2021. And that can be tough.
To help us cope, experts recommend several things, including instituting a new COVID routine. Keep clean masks and hand sanitizer by the front door and in your car. Get into a habit of bowing or waving instead of shaking hands.
For those going back to work, temperature checks and regular testing may be the norm. New technologies, such as doc.ai’s Passport, may help normalize the process and make entering work areas faster and safer. Passport allows a user to enter their health data through a simple, daily symptom-check survey. The app generates an encrypted QR code, called a digital health signature, which people can show when entering work, school or other public space.
Finally, dedicating part of your day to self-care is vital during this stressful time. Yoga, meditation or even cooking can help center you. Apps, including Serenity, your mind and mood companion, offer guided chat for well-being. While using Serenity, you’ll learn to become more aware of the connections between your thoughts, feelings, and actions and learn how these connections can help you improve well-being and strengthen relationships. Serenity users report an average improvement of 15 percent in their mental health in as few as two weeks.
Taking a few minutes to reflect on the progress during this time can help calm you and bring about a new perspective. And knowing that science gives us more tools to better manage this disease may provide us the proverbial light at the end of the COVID tunnel.