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The race to create a coronavirus vaccine

A model of the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirusA model of the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirusIn the global effort to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, governments are limited to using what are called "containment strategies" to stop the coronavirus that causes it from spreading from person to person. These include: social distancing, hand washing, testing and measures to self-isolate those with the disease. But these strategies can only slow the pace of viral infection, allowing medical services to cope with the surge of serious cases. To prevent people getting sick in the first place, only an effective vaccine can work. The world urgently wants to know: when will one be ready?

Cross-section of the Sars-CoV-2 virusCross-section of the Sars-CoV-2 virus

How the virus infects humans

The Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus consists of a strip of RNA (ribonucleic acid), a single-strand version of DNA, the molecule that contains the genes for most other life-forms. This RNA is contained inside a spherical protein capsule covered in spikes, which are also made of protein. After the virus gets inside the human body, its spikes lock on to the surface of a cell lining the lungs. This allows the virus to break into the cell. Once inside, it takes over the cell’s ability to produce more copies of itself, before breaking out of the cell again—killing it as it does so.

Diagrams of DNA and RNA comparedDiagrams of DNA and RNA compared

Rapid response

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