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Public health experts and government leaders around the world have pinned much hope on the rapid development of a vaccine to beat back the coronavirus pandemic that has killed over 150,000 in the US and almost 700,000 worldwide. But a recent statement by the director-general of the World Health Organization casts some doubt on the possibility of a quick and easy resolution to this global crisis.
Along with the promise that safe and effective vaccines are on the horizon comes an ounce of realism. “There’s no silver bullet at the moment and there might never be,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, during an Aug. 3 briefing.
Numerous experts, including doctors at the WHO, have said the fastest way to bring an end to the pandemic is through a vaccine. For people around the world who’ve grown weary of , and the , it can’t come soon enough.
How far off is a vaccine for COVID-19? We’re going to try to answer that by looking at what doctors and scientists have to say, as well as what goes into the vaccine approval process. As a relatively new disease, much remains unknown about COVID-19. This article updates frequently and is intended to be a general overview, not a source of medical advice. If you’re seeking more information about coronavirus testing, near you. Here’s and .
Important COVID-19 vaccine news
- The European Union could approve a vaccine for COVID-19 before the end of 2020, Marco Cavaleri, the EU’s top vaccine official, told Bloomberg in July.
COVID vaccine development is getting faster
Several acceleration efforts are currently underway, like the White House’s Operation Warp Speed, which is meant to cut through regulatory red tape to speed up vaccine development and have hundreds of millions of vaccine doses ready to distribute as soon as they receive FDA approval.
But some scientists worry the political pressure to have a vaccine ready before the November election might result in drugs being distributed to Americans before they’ve been fully proven safe. After all, vaccines typically take decades to develop and distribute globally. It’s never been done this fast before.
Vaccines typically take about 10 to 15 years to develop and approve, through four phases that include human trials. But with Operation Warp Speed, rather than submitting all sections of the application after all four phases are done, approved vaccine projects can submit data to the FDA bit by bit.
Meanwhile, the program is also financially backing efforts to start manufacturing doses while clinical trials are still ongoing. That means if and when those vaccines do get approved, there will already be a store of doses ready to distribute nationally. Because of this, Fauci said he expects the US will have “hundreds of millions of doses” of the vaccine ready to distribute by early 2021.
Promising coronavirus vaccines from UK, US, China
Here’s a quick look at some of the frontrunners in the race to find a vaccine for COVID-19, including where the vaccines are being developed, where they are with testing them and when scientists think they might be ready for widespread distribution, if known.
Oxford University/AstraZeneca (UK): Currently testing its vaccine on 100,000 human volunteers in at least three countries. Lead researcher Dr. Sarah Gilbert has said they’re aiming for a fall 2020 release.
Moderna (US): An apparent scuffle with government regulators delayed large-scale human testing, but Moderna’s CEO has told Barron’s he still expects the company will know by Thanksgiving if the vaccine is safe and effective and should be able to distribute it in early 2021 if it is.
Pfizer (US): Although its four COVID-19 vaccine candidates are still in early-stage human trials, two of them have been fast-tracked by the FDA. Pfizer’s chief business officer told the US Congress the company may be ready to apply for FDA approval by October.
SinoVac (China): Currently testing its vaccine on about 10,000 human volunteers in China and about 9,000 in Brazil and is set to begin testing on about 1,900 test subjects in Indonesia soon. CEO of BioPharma, SinoVac’s Indonesian partner, has said he expects the vaccine to be ready by early 2021.
SinoPharm (China): Currently testing about 15,000 volunteers in the Middle East in a trial the state-owned company expects to last three to six months. SinoPharm recently built a second facility to manufacture the vaccine, doubling its capacity to about 200 million doses per year.
Will there be just one vaccine for everyone?
We probably won’t know until next year, but Fauci has suggested it might require several different vaccines made and distributed by different labs to bring an end to the pandemic, in a paper published May 11 in the journal Science.
What happens if we never find a coronavirus vaccine?
Coronaviruses are a large class of viruses and so far there are no vaccines for any of them. While there are promising early results, there’s no guarantee of a vaccine by 2021. Statistically, only about 6% of vaccine candidates ever make it through to market, according to a Reuters special report.
Early evidence suggests that the coronavirus doesn’t appear to mutate as quickly or often as the flu, and it’s thought that the virus has not yet mutated significantly enough to disrupt vaccine development — although our knowledge could change.
The longer we go without a vaccine, the more likely focus will shift toward treatments, such as the the same life expectancy as non-HIV-positive individuals, thanks to tremendous advances in treatment., which has reportedly shown promising results, and , a steroid that doctors say increases survival rates among the most serious cases. With effective therapeutic treatments, many viruses that used to be fatal are no longer death sentences. Patients with HIV, for example, can now expect to enjoy
Lockdown measures are already, although with a potential , cities could bring back certain quarantine measures, including requiring and . Eventually, the global population may reach the 60% to 70% rate required for to protect those who aren’t immune.