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In search of a vaccine against COVID-19: implications for nursing practice

10 September 2020
13 min read
Volume 29 · Issue 16

Abstract

This article discusses the background to the current COVID-19 pandemic. The specific features of the causative pathogen (SARS-CoV-2) are outlined, together with a ‘whistlestop’ revision of immunological principles. The article goes on to discuss the principles and mechanisms of immunisation and the stages of vaccine development. The current situation in relation to the race to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 is incorporated and the immunological principles being adapted by the top contenders are outlined. These include new approaches based on genetic sequencing. Finally, the importance of understanding theoretical principles and the potential practical implications for nurses who will be at the coalface, reassuring patients and delivering vaccines, is addressed.

Every day the human body is exposed to a huge number of viruses. Although most are harmless, some, which are known as pathogenic virions, can cause disease. Virus particles come in various shapes and sizes and the individual characteristics, together with the characteristics of the individuals they infect, impact on their virulence, including their mode of spread. They also impact on the ability of the immune system to mount an effective and sustained response to prevent disease. When this is not possible, development of a robust, safe, and long-lasting vaccines is sought (Doms, 2016).

On 31 December 2019, a new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) was identified from ‘a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown aetiology with a common source of exposure’. By 10 January 2020, its genome sequence was released to the world (Zhou et al, 2020). By the end of the same month, its emergence had been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. On 7 February, the disease it causes was named COVID-19 (Coronavirus Infectious Disease 2019), and within 6 weeks had been declared a pandemic (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 2020). It would be great to say that the rest is history but sadly it is not.

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