How an Open-Source Coronavirus Vaccine Can End the Pandemic

A low-cost Coronavirus vaccine is underway. Will it save the poor from dying?

Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

Through the years, I would find myself switching to Linux whenever my computer is about to die, and it always saved the day for me. I would soon change back to Microsoft Windows once I have the money to buy myself a new laptop.

This year, I switched back to Linux again, first with Linux Mint, and now I am using Mx Linux, again because my laptop is dying and money is tight during the pandemic.

It has become easier to install Linux and even change distros (Linux distributions), and in my case, to completely wipe out my Microsoft Windows.

I am a writer. I have been using Google docs to write, and I store my files in the cloud. There is nothing that I do that requires me to use Microsoft Windows.

Today an article in The New York Times caught my attention, “Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Coronavirus Vaccine.”

What is happening now is the grave injustice of who gets the vaccine or not, and like whenever I switch to Linux, it is always about the money. In the case of the Coronavirus vaccine, which countries have the money.

The difference here is we are talking about lives. America has already vaccinated 40% of its adult population, while there are at least 30 countries that have yet to see a single dose of any Coronavirus vaccine. The significant disparity in numbers is disturbing, inhumane, and terrible.

“The share of the vaccines they’ve received so far is terrible,” Dr. McLellan said.

Do we heal as one?

At the height of the pandemic, world leaders called for unity amidst the global pandemic. Are we united until the crisis hits home, and we choose to protect our people first?

The pandemic has hit home for all of us. Coronavirus is the most unwelcome surprise of the year. That is an understatement. It is the most unpleasant surprise of the century.

While there is no known cure for now, but I know it will come soon. As science does win eventually, we need to believe that treatment is on the horizon, as scientists and researchers worldwide are working together.

We now have Coronavirus vaccines to protect us, and it is supposed to protect the most vulnerable, the elderly and the poor. Especially in countries where their healthcare system discriminates heavily on the poor, protection is better than the cure.

But when the world is scrambling to fight the virus, the poorest of the poor will get the crumbs. Big pharmaceutical companies had made contracts with rich countries long before the first clinical trials of any vaccine provided any proof that it works.

First-world countries already have the lion’s share of the vaccines produced, and there is no letting up as these countries want to protect the majority of their population.

And I don’t blame the leaders who have done well through their leadership to protect their citizens’ interests.

But what is left for the poorest countries is nothing, and Africa is the most vulnerable. It is home to 1.3 billion people.

As the world scrambles to fight a virus that killed millions of people, we still have to account for our actions.

Do we want to be remembered as the generation who forgot the rest of the world?

The Vaccine Code

When Linus Torvalds introduced the Linux kernel to the world, it started with lines of code that have become the source code from which software developers to this day add a line of code to make it better and more stable.

There is no doubt Linux changed the world. Over a billion Android mobile devices operate under a modified version of the Linux kernel.

A look at the history of Linux will reveal that it would have taken longer for Linux to develop if Linus Torvalds didn't choose to make his Linux kernel an open-source software. That altruistic decision by Linus forever changed the computing world and the world we live in today.

Who is Dr. Jason S. McLellan?

Jason McLellan, a structural biologist at the University of Texas at Austin. His research on coronavirus spike proteins aided the Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax vaccines’ development. — The New York Times

As with Linux, the road to a vaccine starts with breaking the code. Dr. Jason McLellan’s research on spike protein in 2015 when Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) first emerged as a threat to human life. He and his colleagues develop a vaccine based on the prefusion-stabilized MERS-CoV S protein (MERS S-2P).

Collectively, these results advance our understanding of MERS-CoV entry and antibody-mediated neutralization and provide a foundation for the structure-based design of vaccine antigens for highly pathogenic coronaviruses, including those expected to emerge in the future. — PNAS

The research that helped produce the vaccine effective against MERS-CoV allowed Dr. McLellan and his colleagues to develop a 2P spike, which allowed Moderna to use it in their Coronavirus vaccine.

Dr. McLellan’s ability to find lifesaving clues in the structure of proteins has earned him deep admiration in the vaccine world. “This guy is a genius,” said Harry Kleanthous, a senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He should be proud of this huge thing he’s done for humanity.

A low-cost Coronavirus vaccine is underway.

By collaborating with fellow biologists from the University of Texas, Dr. McLellan, Ilya Finkelstein, and Jennifer Maynard can produce in their joint labs a new spike, now known as HexaPro. Hexa meaning six, a vast improvement to the 2P spike that is the basis of the existing Coronavirus vaccines currently available.

It made sense to try to have a better vaccine. — Dr. McLellan

By sharing their research, scientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai can use the HexaPro to create a vaccine by adding the HexaPro to the Newcastle disease viruses. Similarly, scientists created the Ebola vaccine by mixing the Ebola gene with the Newcastle disease virus.

The NDV (Newcastle disease virus) is an effective vaccine vector for the development of human and veterinary vaccines.

NDV-HXP-S is the name of the altered virus, which can now be injected into a fertilized hen’s eggs, where it incubates and replicates for a few days — just as it would do inside a human host.

I can honestly say I can protect every hamster, every mouse in the world against SARS-CoV-2 — Dr. Peter Palese, the research leader.

Already clinical trials are underway in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, and Vietnam, changing how the world fights the pandemic.

The results are promising for the first low-cost coronavirus vaccine. While it will not be available anytime soon, it will change how we fight this virus, leading the world to come to a halt.

The only way we save humanity is if we give everyone the chance to survive. The way to survive the Coronavirus threat is to make cheap vaccines that can be made available to all, regardless of whether you are rich or poor.

By sharing research, in the same way how Linux grew to become the poster boy for open-source software, and changed our lives.

We can develop better and more cost-effective vaccines, as the threat from viruses never ends. For us to win, we must be one step ahead. We must be ready for the next generation of viruses that can one day be as pervasive as the Coronavirus.

It will democratize the way vaccines are delivered. Through joint efforts by a community of researchers, laboratories working together, science will be one step ahead in fighting any permutation the virus will have in the future.

Special thanks to Carl Zimmer of The New York Times, for his insightful story, Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Coronavirus Vaccine

I am my Mom’s true copy. I write fast, I write well.

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