Since the beginning of the new year, the world has been hit by a devastating pandemic. Many countries, states, and cities have introduced measures to counteract the spread of the virus including social distancing laws and the closure of businesses deemed non-essential. So many people have lost loved ones, their jobs, and any sense of normalcy to everyday life. As the number of cases and deaths rise exponentially around the world, the push to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 has become increasingly urgent and important.
However, developing a vaccine is no easy task. Researchers have warned that developing a vaccine typically takes 12 to 18 months, and due to the nature of the COVID-19, it may take even longer. Companies, universities, and biotech groups have focused their attention and efforts towards generating a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. However, in the past week, a seemingly unlikely candidate has entered the vaccine race — the British American Tobacco company.
British American Tobacco is a cigarette and tobacco manufacturing company based in England, largely known for Lucky Strike and Camel cigarettes. A biotech subsidiary of the company, Kentucky BioProcessing, announced on Wednesday that they have made a significant breakthrough on a plant-based COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine is currently in the pre-clinical trial phase and being tested on rodents.
The potential vaccine was created by cloning a COVID-19 genetic sequence to produce an antigen. This antigen can then be inserted into tobacco plants for reproduction. The company claims that this method of vaccine production, where the antigen is injected into tobacco plants, is extremely beneficial as it is able to reproduce the antigens at a much faster rate. According to the British American Tobacco Company, using this method, the vaccine production time frame is accelerated from 12 months to six weeks.
As time is of the essence, this potential vaccine seems extremely promising. However, it is important to consider the ethical concerns of a Tobacco company producing a vaccine for the Coronavirus. COVID-19 is a virus that largely affects the respiratory system, attacking the lungs and causing symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath. Ironically, Tobacco companies, such as British American Tobacco, produce cigarettes that damage the same respiratory system that COVID-19 affects. The World Health Organization has stated that smoking likely increases the risk of more severe reactions to COVID-19.
However, others point to the urgency of having a vaccine. The earlier a vaccine is released to the public, the more lives that will be saved. In this regard, it doesn’t necessarily matter where the vaccine is coming from, as long as it is available. This dilemma begs the question: should Tobacco companies such as British American Tobacco be involved in the production of a vaccine for COVID-19?