An effective vaccine against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is everyone’s hope for a real return to normal life. More than 100 teams of scientists around the world are working to develop and test a vaccine against the virus SARS-CoV-2 as quickly as possible. They’re employing a huge variety of strategies and technologies, including some that have never been used in an approved vaccine before.
“It’s a very fascinating and kind of impressive effort,” said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease specialist at the at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
“It’s absolutely crucial.”
Even in countries that have had a devastating number of deaths from COVID-19, there is nowhere close to a level of “herd immunity” within the population preventing the disease from spreading exponentially if we go back to normal levels of social interaction, she said.
How far are we from the first SARS-CoV-2 vaccine?
Typically, it takes an average of more than 10 years for a vaccine to get from pre-clinical development (including animal testing) through three phases of clinical (human) trials to market registration.
The process has been fast-tracked for COVID-19. The first human vaccine trials began in March, just two months after the virus and disease were identified. And different phases of human trials are being run in an overlapping fashion instead of one at time — for example, Phase 2 might begin just a few weeks after the start of a six-month Phase 1 trial.
Still, officials, including the World Health Organization, have reassured the public that no steps will be skipped. That’s why Russia drew fierce criticism when it announced in mid-August that it was granting regulatory approval to a vaccine developed by Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology after less than two months of human testing, with only two incomplete Phase 1 trials registered with the WHO.
Canada has a notably large number of vaccine candidates registered with the World Health Organization — at least eight.
Candidate vaccines in clinical trials
Multiple vaccines on the horizon?
Most vaccine candidates that make it to preclinical testing never make it to market (about 94 per cent fail, a 2013 study found). But in this case, with so many different vaccines under development, there may still end up being multiple vaccines for the coronavirus, possibly using different strategies, Saxinger predicts.
There are a number of potential advantages if that happens:
They’d be using different ingredients and manufacturing facilities and wouldn’t be competing for resources — allowing for more vaccine production.
Different vaccines have different pros and cons. Some vaccines require more doses to be effective than others, while ease of manufacturing, testing and distribution varies.
Some vaccines may be more suitable for some populations than others, due to factors such as age or genetics.
Stephen Barr is associate professor of microbiology and immunology who is part of a COVID-19 vaccine development team at at Western University in London, Ont. He noted that the “best” vaccine in the end may not be best for everybody. “But the second one might be, for those that don’t respond, right? So it’s always good to have these backup vaccines as well or vaccines that can be used in parallel around the world.”
Many teams are working on a COVID-19 vaccine using technologies that have been in development for decades but have never yet been approved for wide-scale human use, such as DNA, RNA and viral-vector vaccines. Many of those candidates are considered very promising, garnering huge amounts of funding and billions of preorders from some countries. Since August, Canada has announced deals to reserve hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines from Moderna/NAIAD, BioNTech/Fosun Pharma/Pfizer, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies (Johnson & Johnson), Novavax, Sanofi and University of Oxford/AstraZeneca.
Whole virus vaccines
These are the most traditional types of vaccine. They’ve been used for a long time, and most of us have had these kinds of vaccines.
In this case, the virus is grown in large quantities in cells, and then killed, often with a chemical, which is usually formaldehyde, but heat or radiation can also be used. Two kinds of flu vaccines are made this way, grown in either chicken eggs or mammalian cells.
Unlike live virus vaccines, it can even be given to people with weakened immune systems.
It doesn’t lead to as strong an immune response as a live virus. Several doses, including boosters at regular intervals, are usually necessary.
It requires the virus to be grown in large quantities and that can take time and may not be as easy to scale up as other kinds of vaccines.
Live, attenuated virus
In this case, viruses are also grown in cells, but instead of being killed they’re genetically “weakened” so they can’t infect cells and reproduce as effectively. Traditionally, this was done by getting the virus to grow in and adapt to an environment different than the one they normally infect. That’s the approach used for vaccines such as varicella (chicken pox) or yellow fever. The SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates of this type use a high-tech genetic engineering approach called “codon deoptimization,” where the virus is rebuilt from scratch, incorporating targeted mutations that weaken it. None of these vaccine prototypes for COVID-19 have made it to human trials.
Similar to real infection and usually provides long-lasting protection — sometimes lifelong — after one dose.
May not be suitable for people with weakened immune systems, long-term health problems, or people who’ve had organ transplants.
Live viruses need to be refrigerated, making them more difficult to transport and unusable in countries without access to refrigeration.
The virus must be grown in large quantities. That can take time and it may not be easy to scale up.
Vaccines that target part of a virus
These types of vaccines don’t contain entire viruses. They present parts of viruses, such as proteins or sugars, to your immune system to help it learn to recognize the virus and build an immune response.
In the case of SARS-CoV-2, the part of the virus that’s typically targeted is the spike or “S” protein — the projections on its outer coat that make it look like a crown under a microscope (“corona” means “crown.”) That’s the protein the virus uses to bind to human cells, allowing it to enter.
What varies among different vaccine candidates is the way they make the spike protein and get it into the body — it may be injected directly, transported by a “carrier” virus that doesn’t cause disease, or it may be manufactured by the human body itself using instructions encoded in DNA or RNA.
These are a special class of subunit vaccines, where the proteins are self-assembled into artificial particles that are intended to look like viruses to the human immune system. They bind to and enter cells like a virus, which is different from the way individual protein subunits do.
Some vaccines on the market that use VLPs include vaccines for HPV (human papilloma virus) and Hepatitis B.
Produce a stronger immune response than regular subunit vaccines.
Production is much faster than for traditional vaccines.
Ensuring stability and purification can add to production time.
Can be hard to produce in large quantities.
Non-replicating viral vector
Viral vectors are “carrier” viruses that don’t cause the disease you’re vaccinating against, such as COVID-19, but can be engineered to carry a piece of viruses such as SARS-CoV-2. Non-replicating viral vectors are viruses that have been genetically engineered so they can’t replicate and cause disease. Then they’re further modified to produce the protein for the disease you want, such as the coronavirus spike protein, and injected into the body to provoke an immune response.
The viruses used by COVID-19 vaccine candidates include adenoviruses, MVA (modified vaccinia ankara, a weakened pox virus), parainfluenza and rabies.
Generates more powerful immune response than subunit proteins.
Some don’t have to be stored at very low temperatures (according to China-based company CanSino), so they’re viable for use in resource-limited tropical areas.
People who have already been exposed to the viral vector, such as adenovirus, may be resistant.
Harder to scale up than protein or DNA because a virus still needs to be grown.
Because each virus can only infect one cell, large quantities of the virus need to be grown and injected, adding to production time.
Replicating viral vector
These are “carrier” viruses that can replicate in the body, but are either weakened or don’t cause any symptoms in humans. Like non-replicating viral vectors, they’re modified to produce a protein from the virus you want to protect against, such as the spike protein from SARS-CoV-2.
The replicating viral vectors used in COVID-19 vaccine candidates include weakened versions of influenza and measles, as well viruses that cause animal diseases such as horsepox and VSV (Vesicular stomatitis virus).
Closely mimics a real infection and induces a stronger, more widespread immune response.
Because it can replicate, much less virus needs to be injected as a vaccine to induce a good response.
That also means less needs to be grown to produce the vaccine, cutting the cost, time and labour needed compared to whole virus and non-replicating viral vector vaccines.
Requires more testing before approval than protein or nucleic acid-based vaccines, adding to development time.
Needs to be stored and transported at cool temperatures to keep the virus alive, which may make it harder to distribute in warmer parts of the developing world.
With RNA vaccines, what’s injected into the body is simply the genetic instructions to make a viral protein such as the spike protein. Cells in your body then use the instructions to make the protein inside the body for your immune cells to see and respond to.
No virus is needed to make the vaccine, cutting production time compared to conventional vaccines.
Don’t always produce a strong immune response compared to whole viruses, and may require adjuvants.
This is very similar to the RNA vaccines, except that DNA is used instead of RNA. It’s often delivered as a ring of DNA called a plasmid. That enters the cell, and the cell produces the virus protein.
Quick and relatively inexpensive to manufacture in large quantities.
Shelf stable and doesn’t require freezing in storage and transport.
Easy to switch to different gene/virus, and you can combine multiple in single vial.
Requires adjuvants for a good response.
With this type of vaccine, the protein is made outside the body. Traditionally, this was done by breaking whole viruses into pieces using detergent or a solvent such as ether. However, this can now be done with “recombinant” genetic technology, where the gene for a protein is inserted into another organism to grow the protein in large quantities.
Can be produced more quickly than live vaccines.
Doesn’t generate as strong an immune response as whole virus vaccines.A compound called an adjuvant needs to be included to boost a patient’s immune response.
Can’t be scaled up as quickly as production of RNA or DNA vaccines.
Lots of Canadian candidates
As mentioned earlier, Canada currently has at least seven vaccine candidates under development, with Canadian involvement in the development of some others. Saxinger said that maximizes the impact of the expertise we have, from work on diseases such as Ebola, SARS and MERS.
Developing and producing vaccines here at home could also give Canada more control over when Canadians can get the vaccine, and who can be prioritized, given that there will likely be huge demand for the vaccine from countries around the world.
“I don’t think we want to rely on others, hoping they will remember us,” said Volker Gerdts, director and CEO of VIDO-Intervac at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, one of the Canadian teams developing a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. The current race for a vaccine underscores why it’s important for countries like Canada to be self-sufficient, he added.
Canadian vaccine candidates
Priest shot in Lyon, France; assailant flees: Report
The priest was fired on twice. A priest was shot and injured on Saturday at a church in the centre of the French city of Lyon by an assailant who then fled, a police source and witnesses said. The priest was fired on twice at around 4 p.m. (1500 GMT) as he was closing the…
The priest was fired on twice.
A priest was shot and injured on Saturday at a church in the centre of the French city of Lyon by an assailant who then fled, a police source and witnesses said.
The priest was fired on twice at around 4 p.m. (1500 GMT) as he was closing the church, and he was being treated on site for life-threatening injuries, the source said.
Another police source said the priest was of Greek nationality, and had been able to tell emergency services as they arrived that he had not recognised his assailant.
The incident came two days after a man beheaded a woman and killed two other people in a church in Nice. Two weeks ago, a schoolteacher in a Paris suburb was beheaded by an 18-year-old attacker.
While the motive for Saturday’s attack was not known, government ministers had warned that there could be other militant attacks.
President Emmanuel Macron has deployed thousands of soldiers to protect sites such as places of worship and schools.
Prime Minister Jean Castex, who was visiting Rouen, said he was heading back to Paris to assess the situation.
A third person has been taken into police custody in connection with that attack, a police source said on Saturday. The suspected assailant was shot by police and remained in critical condition in hospital.
Ronaldo COVID-free after 19 days but virus hits other Serie A teams
IMOLA: Valtteri Bottas powered to pole position for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola on Saturday with the Finn’s team mate and Formula One leader Lewis Hamilton locking out the front row for dominant Mercedes.Red Bull’s Max Verstappen qualified third, after a power unit scare in the second phase sent mechanics scrambling to fix…
IMOLA: Valtteri Bottas powered to pole position for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola on Saturday with the Finn’s team mate and Formula One leader Lewis Hamilton locking out the front row for dominant Mercedes.Red Bull’s Max Verstappen qualified third, after a power unit scare in the second phase sent mechanics scrambling to fix his car, with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly a stunning fourth on the grid.Mercedes need only a fourth place finish in Sunday’s race to secure a record seventh successive constructors’ world championship.The pole, with a time of one minute 13.609 seconds, was a 13th in 13 races this season for the champions.Sunday’s race will be the first grand prix at Imola since 2006, with the track returning to flesh out a calendar ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the third in Italy this season.”This track, when you push flat out, it’s beautiful. I knew I had to improve in the last lap and I found those small gains that were needed,” said Bottas, who was 0.097 quicker than Hamilton.”It’s a great feeling when you get those.”It’s going to be a good fight. It’s one of the longest runs in the calendar into Turn One so no doubt Lewis and Max will be chasing me, but it’s a good place to start and hopefully the pace is good.”Hamilton leads Bottas by 77 points, having won eight times so far this season, and is closing on a record-equalling seventh drivers’ title although he will have to wait at least until Turkey in two weeks’ time for a chance to clinch it.”Valtteri did a great job. It was a pretty poor lap from myself. These things happen, you can’t always get it perfect,” said Hamilton, who had been quickest after the first flying laps in phase three.
Remedios Varo’s Mystical, Surreal Paintings Continue to Captivate
Upon the sudden death of Remedios Varo in 1963, her peer André Breton noted that death made the painter “the sorceress who left too soon.” It was a fitting way of bidding goodbye to Varo, whose faith in magic, mysticism, and the power of nature inspired her fantastical, allegorical work. She died at the height…
Upon the sudden death of Remedios Varo in 1963, her peer André Breton noted that death made the painter “the sorceress who left too soon.” It was a fitting way of bidding goodbye to Varo, whose faith in magic, mysticism, and the power of nature inspired her fantastical, allegorical work. She died at the height of her success—her posthumous retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City in in 1971 surpassed attendance records at the institution for shows by Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.
In death and life, Varo was defined by her Surrealist associations. After fleeing her native Spain, the French poet Benjamin Péret introduced her to the Parisian avant-garde crowd, whose members she exhibited and studied alongside. Varo worked within a psychoanalytic framework, but her approach left little to accident or automatism. She was a meticulous architect of dreamscapes, planning well in advance the symbology that operated as roadmaps to her autobiography, though she rejected affiliation with the Surrealists, telling an interviewer in 1957, “I was with an open mouth within this group of brilliant and gifted people. I was together with them because I felt a certain affinity. Today I do not belong to any group.”
Below is a guide to Varo’s life and the many influences that shaped her creations.
Early exposure to religion, Romanticism, and science made an indelible impact on her imagination.
She was born María de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo y Uranga in northeast Spain in 1908. Her father was a hydraulic engineer, whose profession often uprooted the family. Having recognized her artistic talent early, he had Varo reproduce his technical engineering sketches. An intellectual and a believer in universalism, the philosophical concept that certain ideas recur in all cultures, he introduced her to the work of Edgar Allan Poe, Alexandre Dumas, and Hieronymus Bosch. She was provided texts on mysticism, science, and philosophy. Her mother, in contrast, was a devout Catholic (Varo was named after the Virgin of Los Remedios). At 15, her parents enrolled her at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Madrid, the alma mater of Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso.
Varo rebelled against it all—the formal instruction of the Escuela de Bellas Artes, her father’s expectations, and her mother’s religious ideology. At 19, she eloped with fellow student Gerardo Lizárraga, and the two left for Paris. She left him soon after to pursue a bohemian lifestyle, taking up with Péret. As an adult, Varo resisted speaking about her childhood. “I do not wish to talk about myself because I hold very deeply the belief that what is important is the work, not the person,” she said.
Toward the Tower by Remedios Varo, 1961.
GDA via AP Images
A triptych created in the last years of her life functions as a metaphor for her early years. In the first part, Toward the Tower (1961), Varo depicts herself as one of a group of uniformed girls bicycling away from a Mother Superior figure, an allusion to the convent she attended for primary schooling. Mother Superior is joined by a looming man and flock of birds. The girl at center resists the hypnotizing effect of her teachers, who have entranced her schoolmates. The central image of the triptych, Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle (1961), offers an alternate view of creation at odds with her conservative Catholic upbringing, which created anxiety for Varo throughout her life. In the work, convent girls are shown captive in a tower as they embroider a story dictated by a hooded figure. The figure stirs a boiling liquid, through which the thread emerges. The final panel, The Escape (1962), represents her successful emancipation. United with her lover, they flee to the mountains.
Varo spent the majority of her life in transit, first as a child, then in adulthood as a political refugee.
Varo moved to Paris in 1937, and because of her political ties, she was barred from returning to her native Spain following the Spanish Civil War. Her time in Paris was fruitful for the connections she made: through Péret, she met leading artists such Breton, Max Ernst, Salvator Dali, and Leonora Carrington. After arriving in Paris she exhibited in the International Surrealist exhibitions organized by Breton and poet Paul Éluard. When World War II neared Paris in 1940, Varo was jailed under suspicion of espionage along with fellow Spanish expatriates. After her release she fled the country with Péret aboard one of the last ships allowed to depart the country, en route to Mexico.
Displacement and travel is frequently alluded to in her painting, often in the form of surreal vehicles of voyage. In Exploration of the Sources of the Orinoco River (1959), an intense figure dressed in a bowler hat and English trench coat is ferried in a small, vest-like boat. She reaches a wooden hut, where water flows from a goblet. The work alludes to Varo’s gold mining trip to Venezuela, where the Orinoco River flows. Here, gold is reminiscent of philosopher’s gold, an alchemical substance which symbolized perfection of the mind and soul, as well as a source of transformation.
Varo blended Renaissance and Surrealist painting techniques in her work.
In one of her best-known paintings, a juggler (or magician) transfixes a crowd of near-identical figures clad in a single gray cloak. The juggler is illuminated by white stardust, and he stands on the platform of a cart filled with a lion and goat and fantastical instruments. Varo created the painting by first transferring a preparatory drawing onto a panel that had been primed with gesso, then scratching the panel to produce an unusual texture. Varo also used decalcomania, a decorative technique popularized by the Surrealists, in which designs on paper or aluminum foil are pressed onto another surface, transferring the image. This created the halo-like effect around the juggler. The central character has also been painted over a five-sided piece of mother of pearl, which Varo associated with enlightenment. Among her many influences was the writings of the Russian mystics and philosophers Georgii Giurdzhiev and Piotr Ouspenskii, who espoused the idea that people live their lives in a state of hypnotic “waking sleep,” but have the potential to awaken a state of hyper-consciousness.
Psychoanalysis played a large role in Varo’s work.
Like many of the Surrealists, Varo was drawn to the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud and Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, both of whom focused on the complexity of the unconscious and untapped desires. It’s unknown whether Varo ever saw a psychoanalyst (a few unsent letters seeking psychiatric help were discovered in her belongings), but she populated her paintings with overt references to the field of study. In the 1956 work Woman Leaving the Psychoanalyst’s Office, the central figure exits from the office of Dr. F. J. A. (Freud, Jung, and the Austrian psychotherapist Alfred Adler) and proceeds to drop her father’s disembodied head into a small well, an act which she described as “correct to do when leaving the psychoanalysis office.” Looked at one way, this could be Varo liberating herself from the patriarchy and approaching autonomy.
She found success and an enduring artistic practice in Mexico City.
Her early exposure to Surrealist and Cubist artists, in particular the work of Georges Braque, were formative on her later practice, but Varo produced little work while in Paris. This was partly due to the sexism of Varo’s male peers, who she said held contemptuous attitudes toward women artists. In Mexico, however, she produced a lush body of work that often elevated a feminine figure. In The Call (1961), her body is illuminated from within by a supernatural glow. While working odd jobs, including a stint as Marc Chagall’s assistant, Varo reunited with fellow European expatriates, such as Leonora Carrington and photographer Kati Horna, who together became known as “the three witches.”
Upon Varo’s arrival, Mexican muralism still held sway, but by the time of Varo’s first exhibition in 1955, Surrealism had become a market force. The show was a hit, with buyers forced to add their names to a waitlist. She showed again at the Salón de la Arte de Mujer in 1958, and died of a heart attack five years later, in 1963.
After a period of relative obscurity outside Mexico, Varo’s star rises on the market.
Frida Kahlo, Varo, and Carrington are often considered the preeminent women artists associated with the Mexican Surrealist movement. Varo remained relatively unknown outside Mexico after her death, but her profile has steadily climbed in recent years alongside rising demand for female Surrealists. Varo, having passed away at her prime, behind few works, many of which reside in private collections. In 2012, the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired The Juggler (The Magician), 1956, which is now prominently displayed in the Surrealist gallery beside works by Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí.
In 2019, Varo was featured in “Surrealism in Mexico,” a retrospective at the Di Donna Galleries in New York, and in a pop-up show presented by Gallery Wendi Norris in San Francisco, which paired Varo with works by Carrington. “Some of the best paintings of Surrealism were made in Mexico during the 1940s and ’50s, by women,” wrote the New York Times in its review of the show. In June 2020, Varo’s 1959 canvas Microcosmos (Determinismo) sold at Sotheby’s for $1.8 million, marking the fifth-highest price paid for the Varo’s work at auction. Armonía (Autorretrato Sugerente), 1956, achieved an even higher number, selling for a record-breaking $6.1 million, far surpassing its high estimate of $3 million.