Such a clever headline and a WHOPPER of an obfuscation from National Pharma Radio, aka NPR. In the article they jauntily refer to a substance called "alum...." The author might want to check in on the work of Chris Exley in the UK. His latest? The role of aluminum adjuvants in vaccines raises issues that deserve independent, rigorous and honest science
There are many approaches to making a vaccine against COVID-19. Some use genetic material from the coronavirus, some use synthetic proteins that mimic viral proteins and some use disabled versions of the virus itself.
But before any of these approaches can generate the antibodies to the coronavirus that scientists say are essential to protecting people from getting sick, the immune system has to be primed to make those antibodies.
That's the job of something called an adjuvant.
"The definition of [an] adjuvant is something you add to enhance, in the case of immunity, the immune response," says Gregory Glenn, president of research and development at Novavax, one of the companies that has received money from Operation Warp Speed.
Vaccines essentially trick the body into making an immune response to a specific virus or bacterium, so if something dangerous comes along, the immune system will be prepared.
But before it can prompt a response to a specific virus, the immune system has to be made ready.
"When you inject a vaccine, the first immune cell that's of importance is a dendritic cell," Glenn says.
Dendritic cells are part of what's called the innate immune response. These cells will respond to anything foreign that enters the body, the coronavirus included.
"If they see something — they see a virus or bacteria — they become highly activated, and then they create a whole cascade of events," Glenn says.
That cascade leads to the production of antibodies, and it's the antibodies that will recognize the specific virus of interest.
Novavax's testing shows an adjuvant is critical to its vaccine working well. That's the case for many vaccines.
But the strange thing is that there aren't a lot of adjuvants out there.
"We only think about adjuvants when there's a dire need, such as this pandemic, for example," says Bali Pulendran, a vaccine developer at Stanford University. "Now everyone is interested in faster response and a better response and a longer-lasting response."
Pulendran says for almost a century, scientists relied on a compound called alum to act as an adjuvant. It was only in the 1990s that new adjuvants started appearing on the scene. Now there are several more options, but Pulendran says more choices are needed.