COVID-19 and Innovation

Neha Shukla
5 min readSep 6, 2020

Welcome to the first edition of Innovation Corner! This edition focuses on innovations during the COVID-19 pandemic, and explains big concepts in science and technology in laymen’s terms.

Image Source: Unsplash

The Search for a COVID-19 Vaccine

In the midst of a global pandemic and widespread lockdown, many of us are yearning to leave our homes and return to the interconnected lives that we were accustomed to. However, returning to a sense of normalcy is dependent on the development of a vaccine for COVID-19. As of now, there are no vaccines or treatments for COVID-19 that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); however, there are many experimental vaccines being tested in labs globally.

How do vaccines work?

There are two broad categories of vaccines: traditional vaccines and mRNA vaccines.

Vaccines inject inactivated pathogen to build immunity. Image Source

Traditional vaccines inject an inactivated form of the pathogen into the body, triggering an immune response and generating immunity. The pathogen is covered with antigens, molecules that identify whether the virus belongs in the body or is an invader. When the vaccine is injected into the body, the immune system is able to recognize the pathogens as invaders, produce antibodies to attack them, and remember them for future attacks. The next time that the pathogen enters the body, the immune system will remember that it is a danger to the body and will attack the pathogen before it can cause any sickness or damage.

There are many different types of “traditional” vaccines (live-attenuated, inactivated, subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, conjugate, and toxoid vaccines) but they all broadly use the same approach to fighting off a pathogen. These vaccines have been used since the first smallpox vaccine in 1796, and have been used to combat all sorts of diseases from chickenpox to polio to tuberculosis.

A comparison of RNA and DNA. Image Source

mRNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine emerging as the latest development in immunology, and show promise in addressing infectious diseases like COVID-19. mRNA stands for “messenger RNA,” and is a single-stranded messenger containing genetic information and instructions on how to assemble various proteins in the cell. Since mRNA contains the genetic instructions on manufacturing proteins, it can easily be used to produce protein-based antigens.

According to Harvard’s Science in the News, the immune system would recognize the invader antigens, and produce antibodies to fight against the perceived threat. In doing so, it develops a defense specifically against COVID-19, known as “acquired immunity”. When a vaccinated individual gets exposed to the virus SARS-CoV-2, the immune system already knows that it is a threat, and attacks the virus before it can do any damage.

mRNA vaccines are safer for the patient, efficient to produce, flexible enough to be adjusted for a different vaccine with minimal changes to the vaccine production process, and producing equivalent results as traditional vaccines. However, this type of vaccine has yet to complete drug testing trials and gain approval from organizations like the United States’ FDA, so clinical trials are still ongoing.

Where are we in drug testing trials?

Currently, the effort to discover an effective COVID-19 vaccine is one of global cooperation. Large pharmaceutical companies are partnering with university labs and biotechnology companies to create safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19, with hundreds of vaccine candidates in trials globally.

The US Food and Drug Administration’s process of approving a drug for public use; these clinical trials ensure maximum safety and efficacy. Image Source

The process of testing and approving vaccines for public use is complicated. However, scientists around the world are working to come up with potential solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the partnership of labs and Big Pharma companies, hundreds of promising vaccine candidates have testing underway: University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, Moderna and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), BioNTech and Pfizer, SinoVac, and many others have created vaccines that are showing positive results in clinical trials. With labs around the world working with the full spectrum of treatment types and categories of vaccines, a select group of vaccines are emerging with repeated positive results and are entering Phase 3 drug testing trials.

In an effort to aid the drug testing process, the FDA rolled out an accelerated development and testing program, called the Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program (CTAP). This program aims to speed up the lengthy process of drug testing trials, while ensuring that the drugs are safe for the patient and effective against COVID-19.

A new global vaccine alliance called COVID-19 Global Vaccine Access Facility (COVAX) has emerged as of July 15 to grant rapid, fair, and equitable access to vaccine distribution when a vaccine candidate has been accepted to successfully fight against COVID-19. Over 75 countries have already pledged to join the alliance in its infancy, where these developed countries will support 90 lower-income countries with vaccine distribution funding. According to the World Health Organization, this alliance of up to 165 countries represents over 60% of the world’s demographic with countries from every continent represented, and with over half of the world’s G20 economies participating as well.

What can we do about it?

Due to the efforts of millions of scientists around the world, we now have over 500 drug development programs in planning and testing stages, with several vaccines emerging as promising candidates.

However, until the day comes when a vaccine is readily available to the public, we all must do our part to slow the spread of the pandemic and support frontline workers that risk their lives to save ours. We must take preventative measures and continue washing our hands, wearing masks, social distancing, and supporting scientists by following guidelines and educating ourselves about science and technology.

Author’s Note:

This article was written in mid-July and originally published in the Journal of International Thought’s edition of “Summer 2020: Young Voices Amid Pandemic and Protest”. This article was written by Neha Shukla, under the guidance of the World Affairs Council of Harrisburg.



Neha Shukla

18-year old inventor, bestselling author, & AI ethicist creating impact-driven tech for climate & communities. Read more at