Shortly after Taiwan announced that it had successfully produced its own vaccine as it seeks to bolster its domestic COVID response, India has followed up on its promise to create its own homespun DNA-based COVID jab.
The DNA vaccine uses circular strands of DNA to prime the immune system against a virus - in this case, SARS-CoV-2. Researchers welcomed news of the first DNA vaccine's approval, saying it could be a major step forward in the battle against COVID. The jab, called ZyCoV-D, is administered into the skin without an injection, and has been found to be 67% protective against symptomatic COVID-19 in clinical trials.
Now that India has approved the jab and manufacturing is ramping up, ZyCoV-D will likely start to be administered in India later this month. Although the efficacy is not particularly high compared to that of many other COVID-19 vaccines, the fact that it is a DNA vaccine is significant, say researchers.
Close to a dozen DNA-based vaccines against COVID-19 are in clinical trials globally, and at least as many are in earlier stages of development. To be sure, DNA vaccines are also being developed for many other diseases. They have many advantages over mRNA vaccines that make them particularly useful in environments like India.
While mRNA vaccines were quicker to show strong immune responses in clinical trials, DNA vaccines are better suited for many economies because they are easy to produce, and the finished products are more stable than mRNA vaccines - allowing them to be stored at higher temperatures. They also don't need to be injected deep into the muscle tissue.
"If DNA vaccines prove to be successful, this is really the future of vaccinology" because they are easy to manufacture, says Shahid Jameel, a virologist at Ashoka University in Sonipat, India.
The urgency of combating COVID-19 has fast-tracked the development of vaccines that use more experimental genetic technology, such as mRNA and DNA vaccines.
With that in mind, we'd just like to note: at this point in the pandemic, tampering directly with DNA and RNA is totally fine, but taking a drug that has been approved by the FDA since 1998 (ivermectin) is blasphemy.