As of late July 2020, COVID-19 still poses a significant threat to nations around the globe. And so far, there is no vaccine proven to prevent this Novel Coronavirus — yet.
Medical professionals are working around the clock to change that.
COVID-19 vaccine research is happening at breakneck speed.
Roughly 140 vaccines are in various phases of testing today.
Dozens of those are being tested now, on humans, in clinical trials.
And progress is being made. On July 20, 2020, the UK Government ordered 90 million doses of "promising Coronavirus vaccine candidates" from various providers.
So, when can we expect a COVID-19 vaccine to be widely available to the public? And what kind of promising progress is being made today? Here, we'll answer those questions to the best of our ability.
Understand that our predictions are all, ultimately, speculation. But modern medicine is blessed with a solid understanding of the human immune response, and we have a history of creating vaccines that work. Let's start with a closer look at vaccine development and disease eradication before the pandemic.
An Abbreviated History of Vaccine Development & Disease Eradication
From cholera to anthrax, and from plague to polio, the science behind vaccinations is only about 200 years old. Yet these advances have saved untold millions of lives, and continue to do so.
The Immunisation Advisory Centre of New Zealand says Edward Jenner is considered the founder of modern vaccinology in the West since 1796. It was Jenner who first inoculated a 13 year-old-boy with cowpox, and demonstrated the existence of immunity.
The first smallpox vaccine was developed in 1798.
Over the next centuries, systematic implementation of mass smallpox vaccinations culminated in its eradication in 1979.
Louis Pasteur spearheaded the development of live attenuated cholera vaccine in 1897, and inactivated anthrax vaccine in humans in 1904.
A plague vaccine was also developed during the late 1800s.
Then, between 1890 and 1950, bacterial vaccines proliferated. Enter the Bacillis-Calmette-Guerin (BCG) tuberculosis vaccination we still use in 2020.
Polio Might be the Most Recently Eradicated Disease Thanks to Vaccines
Viral tissue culture methods were developed and perfected during the decades 1950-1985.
These led to the Salk (inactivated) polio vaccine and the Sabin (live attenuated oral) polio vaccine.
The global availability of these vaccines has largely eradicated this painful, potentially fatal disease from many countries.
All of this positive history gives us great hope for the fast development of a safe vaccination against COVID-19.
Why Does COVID-19 Vaccine Development Take so Long?
We know how immune systems work, and we're experts at developing vaccines. We've come a long way in a short time. Still, modern vaccine development is not an overnight process.
Although we have working vaccines for other strains of Coronavirus, and particularly for pets and livestock, it's wise to move forward very thoughtfully. It could be a tragedy far worse than the pandemic itself, were we to prematurely administer damaging doses, especially to pediatric patients and the elderly.
Between layers of testing and clinical trials, the average vaccine takes roughly five-to-ten years in development (and costs around $500 million) before it's ready for public use in the US.
That's why The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched Operation Warp Speed (OWS) in June 2020.
Operation Warp Speed (OWS)
Per the HHS website OWS "aims to deliver 300 million doses of a safe, effective vaccine for COVID-19 by January 2021 as part of a broader strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics." Together, these treatments and tests are collectively called "countermeasures."
OWS Key Players
OWS is a partnership among:
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
The National Institutes of Health (NIH)
The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA)
and the Department of Defense (DoD)
OWS also engages with private companies, providers, and other federal agencies like the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy. Together, these teams work day and night to create a safe, reliable COVID-19 vaccine that works. Today, about 140 potential vaccines are in various stages of vaccine development.
COVID-19 Vaccine Candidates in the 5 Stages of Vaccine Development
Most vaccines spend years in these five stages of development:
Discovery and Research: there are at least 100 potential COVID-19 vaccine candidates in this phase right now. Usually, it takes at least two years, and as many as five.
Pre-clinical: Currently, there are about twenty candidates this far.
Clinical Development: is divided into Phase I — safety, Phase II — which demonstrates a vaccine's ability to activate the immune response, and Phase III — proving the vaccine protects against disease. There are about ten vaccines in Phase I and five in Phase II today. Only one candidate has made it to Phase III and beyond.
Regulatory Review and Approval: One vaccine candidate has made it this far today.
Manufacturing and Delivery: At this time, vaccine candidates aren't yet ready for administration.
How Long Until We See a COVID-19 Vaccine Widely Available to the Public?
Dr. Anthony Fauci believes we are still about a year away. He reminded Americans on July 24, 2020, that even if a vaccine candidate gets through the testing process successfully this year, it will be several more months until that vaccination is widespread across the US.
"I think as we get into 2021, several months in, [there will be a vaccine] widely available to people in the United States," Fauci told the Washington Post's Bob Costa.
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