• Question: Which is more important in a pandemic such as this one: producing a vaccine or antiviral? This question came about due to the media giving large emphasis on vaccines in the pandemic but little to no coverage on antivirals.

    Asked by indigoblue on 1 May 2020.
    • Photo: Kim Liu

      Kim Liu answered on 1 May 2020: last edited 1 May 2020 11:07 am


      This is a great question ~ I believe the reason the media is not covering antivirals is because in general they are harder to make work. An antiviral that looks to kill virus after infection has to somehow penetrate into cells infected by the virus – it can be very tricky for a drug to find where those cells are! Antiviral therapy often looks to attack the virus before the infection starts making patients ill.
      In short, I think vaccines are more important because we know them to be more reliable than antiviral treatments for most people. Better to prevent than fix, if possible ~

    • Photo: Mery Shahin

      Mery Shahin answered on 1 May 2020:


      As Kim Liu has already explained the design of antivirals is quite challenging. They have to be able to penetrate the cells infected by the virus, they need to affect only the virus and no other components of the host cell and they need to be highly effective in blocking the replication of viruses. A common issue with antivirals is that the virus can evolve to resist the drugs – that is why, for example, when treating HIV infections multiple antivirals are administered at the same time. Another drawback of antivirals is that they can sometimes be effective only at the very beginning of the infection. Flu antiviral drugs work best when taken within the first 48 of onset of flu symptoms but for some people it might take longer to realise they have the flu or to seek medical help, making the antiviral treatment less effective. So even though various drugs are still being tested for treating COVID19, vaccines (which are a preventative measure – they prevent you from getting ill, instead of stopping your illness) are widely regarded as a more reliable and permanent solution to a viral infection.

    • Photo: Maria Marti

      Maria Marti answered on 1 May 2020: last edited 1 May 2020 11:35 am


      Good question! To add to Kim’s response, I think finding a vaccine and new antivirals could both be very useful but they would solve different problems. If we manage to get an effective vaccine, we can prevent people from getting COVID in the first place, and that will also mean they will be less likely to infect others. If, as many scientists now think, this virus does not change very quickly by mutation, being vaccinated will mean we can respond to the virus every time we get in contact with it (and hopefully for life). While we find a vaccine, many scientists are looking into drug repurposing: that is, they are trying to test whether antivirals or other drugs we already have to treat other diseases can be useful to treat COVID. This is always difficult, because you need to find some drugs that will leave our cells alone and only mess with the virus, but such drugs could be very useful until we find another strategy to prevent, instead of treat, COVID.

    • Photo: Melanie Krause

      Melanie Krause answered on 5 May 2020:


      Really good question and good observation on your part! 😉
      As everyone else already said.. both are important but for different reasons. A vaccine prevents you from getting sick.. so once everyone is vaccinated we can all get back to living as before. Now vaccines take a while to develop.. as do antivirals. However, some scientists and companies are now trying to figure out if antivirals we already have can be used against this new virus.. that would be a quicker solution. In most cases that would only lessen the effect of the disease though so people could still get sick and we would need to still take distancing measures to not overburden the healthcare system.
      But both are definitely important and being studied 🙂

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