Science & Technology

COVID-19: Here’s the difference between vaccines, antibodies

Vaccines are chemicals that help the body develop antibodies while antibodies are developed by the body’s immune system to fight pathogens

By Meenakshi Sushma
Published: Friday 08 May 2020

Italy and Israel both claim to have had breakthroughs in developing methods to neutralise the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), that is responsible for the disease (COVID-19) pandemic, suggest several media reports.

Media reports suggest the vaccine had antibodies that worked on human cells, blocking the virus from infecting humans.

Some media reports used the terms vaccines and antibodies interchangeably. There is, however, a difference between them.

Vaccines are chemicals that when injected into the body, help it develop antibodies. Antibodies, on the other hand, are developed by the body’s immune system to fight pathogens.

Italian researchers at the Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome, Italy claim they found a vaccine to treat the SARS-CoV-2 infection. Takis — the firm working on developing the vaccine — used it to produce antibodies in mice that was then used to neutralise the virus in human cells.

This suggested that the vaccine may lead to a similar production of antibodies in human beings and would help shield the person from the infection.

A component from the pathogen is introduced into the body through a vaccine. While this component does not lead to the disease, it trains the body’s immune system to prepare a response for when the actual pathogen attacks.

The pathogen component that triggers the reaction in the body can be inactivated, weakened or even a toxin produced by the pathogen.

Another way of using antibodies — produced in experimental animals or designed in silico (produced through computer simulations or modelling) — can be to use them as a medicine or therapy.

This option is being explored as well to combat SARS-CoV-2. The Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) claimed it developed an antibody that can neutralise the virus. Naftali Bennet, Israel’s defence minister claimed the ‘monoclonal neutralising antibody’ developed by IIBR, attacks the virus and neutralises it inside the virus carrier’s body.

Monoclonal antibodies — as the name suggests — are cloned from a single recovered cell. This cell was obtained through plasma samples collected from patients who recovered from COVID-19.

These antibodies form the basis for plasma therapy too.

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