People are making their own coronavirus vaccines at home for less than $ 1,000: what we know about the DIY vaccine phenomenon, its strengths and its dangers
Some days ago, the story of a small independent German laboratory (run by a 74-year-old doctor) who would have created his own coronavirus vaccine. Above all, by the air of David vs. Goliath who had some of the researcher’s own statements: “If it turns out that my process works, then the patents of others are not valid. Because then anyone could make a vaccine“.
It’s a good story, but it doesn’t fit well with reality. Because the truth is that today, with very basic means and not too advanced technical knowledge, anyone can produce their own vaccine. This what he discovered johnswentworth, a user of LessWrong, that he asked himself in December how hard it would be to make a vaccine for yourself.
All roads led him to RaDVaC, a collaborative project and open source for the rapid development of vaccines that, among its more than 100 scientists and researchers, has signatures as powerful as the from the famous Harvard Genetics Professor George Church. RaDVaC is just one example among many, but perhaps the best for understand the potential and limitations of DIY vaccines.
What is it like to make a coronavirus vaccine?
Surprisingly simple and within the reach of almost any amateur lab. The RaDVaC vaccine works, like the Vector we talked about a few days ago, from synthetic peptides. That is, it uses small pieces of the virus’s proteins to try to build immunity. Today, as Johnswentworth himself pointed out, there are numerous companies that are dedicated to synthesizing peptides on demand and that, with very few restrictions, send you vials in perfect condition at home.
This is interesting because it was what the promoters of the project were looking for. From the beginning at RaDVaC they believed that “the existing health, commercial and regulatory infrastructures had failed to provide a vaccine to protect humanity, especially the most vulnerable, against the pandemic.” Therefore, in the best tradition of citizen science, they set out to create “an open source SARS-CoV-2 vaccine “that was easy to make with readily available materials.
To do this, they synthesized “decades of scientific literature” on proven models to develop, produce and self-administer intranasal vaccines in a 69 page pdf. The white paper describes in great detail the entire manufacturing and preparation process of a vaccine for personal use. By itself, even if it is not intended to create anything, it is a fascinating read to understand the state of amateur science today.
Well, with that document in your hands and the background A technician from his undergraduate years, Johnswentworth decided to get down to business and make his own vaccine. Above all, because apart from the peptides, all the excipients and materials necessary for the preparation of the aspirate could be found on Amazon without problem.
As you describe in your article, although the techniques needed to start the process are not trivial, they are affordable For someone familiar with a laboratory: just make solutions, prepare the peptides and mix them using a shaker plate.
So what is the problem? Why aren’t we doing vaccines?
The problem, sadly, is everything else. And, up to this point, we’ve only gone through the simple part of the process. It is often “put in value” that Moderna took only two days to develop its vaccine. But this is surprising only insofar as it is a new technology. Researchers from Oxford, Gamaleya, CanSino or Vector took much less in knowing how his vaccine would be: making vaccines is easy, the difficult thing is that they work correctly and produce them at an industrial level.
The paradigmatic example is the Oxford vaccine. Researchers at the English University had been developing the technology that would allow them to rapidly create a vaccine for more than a decade, and precisely because of that, everyone knew it was a pretty safe bet. However, what they did not have was the ability to undertake clinical trials internationally that will ensure the effectiveness and safety of your candidate. Nor did they have the logistics and production structures to produce millions of doses. That is why it partnered with AstraZeneca and that is why we can consider RaDVaC as an artisanal vaccine: the pandemic is a global threat.
If you look at the RaCVaC document we will see that, according to them, more than a hundred people have been inoculated with the vaccine, lack of data on how they fared, side effects and immunity generated. It is true that they have chosen the safest way to produce a vaccine and that the possibility of problems (compared to any other vaccine) is very low. On a daily basis, we inhale an innumerable number of peptides without causing us health problems. However, as we well know, that doesn’t mean anything.
The protocols and procedures exist because history is paved with well-intentioned projects that ended very badly. And, from what we know so far, these DIY vaccines are projects that work in theory, but we don’t know if it works in practice. There is no data to support it. That is to say, share with biohacking the same inability to pay the checks they write with their enthusiasm.