COVID-19: Glossary of Terms

 A glossary of common terms pertaining to COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines.

  • Antibodies:  Protective proteins produced by the body’s immune system, which help identify potentially harmful antigen proteins associated with potentially harmful substances (e.g. poison ivy) or foreign infectious agents (e.g. a virus). This allows the antibody to destroy the foreign agent or mark the agent for the immune system to destroy.
  • Antibody Therapy: A treatment that uses manufactured antibodies to fight infection or other diseases. While most antibodies are produced by the immune system, purified antibodies can be made in laboratory settings. There are more than 70 different antibody therapies in use today to treat many different diseases from dermatitis to lung cancer.
  • Antigen: A substance (usually but not always a protein) that is recognized as foreign by the body and can help identify foreign hazards such as infectious agents. Antibodies have special regions that recognize and bind to antigens, alerting the body’s immune system to produce a response to destroy the foreign agents.
  • Antiviral: A medication that acts directly on viruses. If administered early enough, antiviral treatments can shorten the length of infection or lessen the severity of the illness.
  • API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients): Active pharmaceutical ingredient means any substance that is intended for incorporation into a finished drug product and is intended to furnish pharmacological activity or other direct effect in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or to affect the structure or any function of the body. Active pharmaceutical ingredient does not include intermediates used in the synthesis of the substance.
  • BARDA (Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority): An office in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that helps to secure the United States from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense threats, pandemic influenza and other emerging infectious diseases.
  • CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations): A global alliance financing and coordinating the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases. CEPI engages global partners across public, private, philanthropic and civil society organizations.
  • Convalescent plasma: The liquid part of blood that is collected from patients who have recovered from a viral infection. Antibodies and other immune system components present in convalescent plasma have the potential to treat the infection.
  • COVID-19: The infectious disease caused by a novel form of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) first detected in December 2019. COVID-19 typically causes respiratory illness with symptoms that may include fever, cough, fatigue and in severe cases, difficulty breathing, which may lead to death.
  • Coronavirus: A large family of viruses known to cause respiratory diseases in both animals and humans. Coronaviruses which have infected people include SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), and the new SARS-CoV-2.
  • In vitro diagnostics: In vitro diagnostics are tests done on samples such as blood or tissue that have been taken from the human body. In vitro diagnostics can detect diseases or other conditions, and can be used to monitor a person’s overall health to help cure, treat, or prevent diseases
  • DNA Vaccine: A vaccine that contains DNA encoding antigens from a pathogen to help build immunity and protect against future infection. No DNA vaccines have been approved for humans in the United States.
  • Emergency Use Authorization (EUA): Authorization issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorizing the emergency use of an unapproved medical product or an unapproved use of an approved medical product for certain emergency circumstances after the HHS Secretary has made a declaration of emergency or threat justifying authorization of emergency use
  • Epitope: A specific region of an antigen that is recognized by specific antibodies or immune cells. Antigens generally have more than one epitope.
  • Expanded Access: The use of an investigational drug when the primary purpose is to diagnose, monitor, or treat a patient’s disease or condition rather than to obtain the kind of information about the drug that is generally derived from clinical trials. This is also referred to as compassionate use.
  • Immunology: The study of the body’s immune system. 
  • Pandemic: The worldwide spread of a new infectious disease when a large portion of the population does not have immunity to the emerging virus. 
  • PPE (Personal Protective Equipment): clothing, helmets, gloves, face shields, goggles, facemasks and/or respirators or other equipment designed to protect the wearer from the spread of infection or illness. When used correctly, PPE acts as a physical barrier between the wearer and the infection. 
  • RNA-based vaccine: A vaccine that introduces RNA that contains the genetic information encoding an antigen, which is then synthesized by cells in the body. This triggers an immune response, which can help protect the body against future infections.  No RNA vaccines have been approved for humans in the United States.
  • RNA Virus: A virus that carries its genetic information as RNA, rather than DNA.
  • Vaccine: A substance used to build immunity against a disease that protects an immunized individual from contracting the disease.  Vaccines can also fight disease at the population level via a process known as herd immunity. Vaccines can be administered through a shot, the mouth or nasal spray. 
  • VirologyThe study of the biology of viruses and viral diseases.