How the Sinovac Vaccine Works

How the Sinovac Vaccine Works

The private Chinese company Sinovac developed a coronavirus vaccine called CoronaVac. The government of Turkey announced that a trial there showed the vaccine has an efficacy of 91.25%. But Sinovac has yet to share the full details of its research.

A Vaccine Made From Coronaviruses

CoronaVac works by teaching the immune system to make antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The antibodies attach to viral proteins, such as the so-called spike proteins that stud its surface.

To create CoronaVac, the Sinovac researchers started by obtaining samples of the coronavirus from patients in China, Britain, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. One sample from China eventually served as the basis for the vaccine.
Killing the Virus

The researchers grew large stocks of the coronavirus in monkey kidney cells. Then they doused the viruses with a chemical called beta-propiolactone. The compound disabled the coronaviruses by bonding to their genes. The inactivated coronaviruses could no longer replicate. But their proteins, including spike, remained intact.

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How the Sinovac Vaccine Works

The researchers then drew off the inactivated viruses and mixed them with a tiny amount of an aluminum-based compound called an adjuvant. Adjuvants stimulate the immune system to boost its response to a vaccine.

Inactivated viruses have been used for over a century. Jonas Salk used them to create his polio vaccine in the 1950s, and they’re the bases for vaccines against other diseases including rabies and hepatitis A.
Prompting an Immune Response

Because the coronaviruses in CoronaVac are dead, they can be injected into the arm without causing Covid-19. Once inside the body, some of the inactivated viruses are swallowed up by a type of immune cell called an antigen-presenting cell.

The antigen-presenting cell tears the coronavirus apart and displays some of its fragments on its surface. A so-called helper T cell may detect the fragment. If the fragment fits into one of its surface proteins, the T cell becomes activated and can help recruit other immune cells to respond to the vaccine.
Making Antibodies

Another type of immune cell, called a B cell, may also encounter the inactivated coronavirus. B cells have surface proteins in a huge variety of shapes, and a few might have the right shape to latch onto the coronavirus. When a B cell locks on, it can pull part or all of the virus inside and present coronavirus fragments on its surface.

A helper T cell activated against the coronavirus can latch onto the same fragment. When that happens, the B cell gets activated, too. It proliferates and pours out antibodies that have the same shape as their surface proteins.

Stopping the Virus

Once vaccinated with CoronaVac, the immune system can respond to an infection of live coronaviruses. B cells produce antibodies that stick to the invaders. Antibodies that target the spike protein can prevent the virus from entering cells. Other kinds of antibodies may block the virus by other means.