Due to Coronavirus, there is perhaps a greater interest in vaccine development today than at any other point in history. It seems not a day goes by at the moment without another headline proclaiming a vaccine might be just around the corner, piquing the interest of the public and making us all hope an end to the virus may be imminent.
COVID first emerged on a global scale back in early 2020 and has since gone on to infect over 40 million people across the world – and has sadly also been the attributed cause of over 1 million deaths.
The virus has decimated economies and caused misery in populations across the planet. Social distancing, isolation, lockdown, cluster cases, the ‘R’ number – none of these terms were known at the start of this year yet now have been adopted into the common vocabulary.
Meantime we have had temporary solutions and fixes that have helped massively mitigate the effects of COVID – such as rapid antigen kits produced by companies like Team Technologies. While testing kits have undoubtedly helped, longer-term, most experts agree the only successful way out of the current predicament will be through the development of an effective vaccine.
There is little doubt Coronavirus has changed the world, and the race is now on to find an effective vaccine. But just what goes into vaccine development – and how likely is it we will see a COVID vaccine any time soon?
The five stages of vaccine production
Vaccine research normally takes several years; however, in the case of Coronavirus, many experts believe we could see a vaccine developed in just 12 to 18 months. This truly will be a gargantuan effort considering the various stages vaccines typically need to pass before gaining approval:
Pre-clinical testing: Identifying a virus’s characteristics is central to finding a cure, however, the first stage in development is to check whether avaccine can trigger an immune response. To do this, researchers will administer the vaccine to animals and monitorhow it performs.
Phase one testing: In phase one, the vaccine will be administered to a small group of volunteers – mostly to assess the immune response it provokes as well as to test safety considerations.
Phase two testing: Once it’s been established, the vaccine has provoked the appropriate immune response, it will then be rolled out to more comprehensive testing on hundreds of people. This stage of testing will typically focus mostly on safety and assessing the correct dosage.
Phase three testing: Phase three is the final hurdle in terms of development. The vaccine is given to thousands of people to check its safety, effectiveness, and likelihood of causing side effects. This final phase of testing also normally includes administering a placebo to a control group.
Approval: Only if a vaccine has passed all four previous testing phases, will it be considered safe, effective and appropriate for general release.
How vaccines work
Most vaccines work by taking bacteria or viruses and weakening them sufficiently so that they can’t replicate particularly well – or not at all. The public is then exposed to this reduced-strength virus to allow them to develop immunity.
Of course, before this stage is reached, the vaccine needs to undergo the stages of testing outlined above. There are currently 11 Coronavirus vaccines at phase three testing phase.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently tracking the development of over 170 different Coronavirus vaccines, each at different stages of the development process. WHO has also said it does not expect vaccination against COVID until mid-2021.