As the world continue to be gripped by Covid-19, scientists around the world have scrambled to come up with a vaccine. This extremely contagious microbe which has the capacity to take millions of lives, has led countries to deploy all their resources to come up with a vaccine — which is the only way to save human lives.
At this stage, 35 companies and academic institutions are in the midst of creating a vaccine for Covid-19. Amongst these 3 companies have already started to test their preliminary stage vaccines on animals. The first of these – produced by Boston-based biotech firm Moderna – will enter human trials imminently.
China’s early sharing of the sequence of the novel coronavirus enabled firms around the world to timely develop and study the effects of virus on human beings. This accelerated Europe’s efforts to develop a vaccine, when the virus had not yet officially entered the region.
Potential problems of releasing a vaccine
Clinical trials take time, as there are a number of phases involved in vaccine testing.
- In the first phase, vaccine is administered to a few dozen healthy volunteers. This helps in testing the vaccine for safety, and monitoring its adverse effects.
- In the second stage, it is administered to several hundred people, usually in a part of the world affected by the disease. This phase helps in determining how effective the vaccine is.
- The third phase does the same in several thousand people. These vaccines undergo attrition due to the change in conditions in different parts of the world. For reliable results, vaccine is exposed to people from different parts of the world.
Furthermore, there is also a chance in which a vaccine can aggravate symptoms in some age groups. So, testing needs to be carried out on all age groups, for reliability of results.
A potential vaccine typically takes a decade or more for regulatory approval. This is the reason why Annelies Wilder-Smith, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said “Like most vaccinologists, I don’t think this vaccine will be ready before 18 months.”
In the meantime, there is another problem. As soon as a vaccine is approved, it’s going to be needed in vast quantities – and many of the organizations in the Covid-19 vaccine race simply don’t have the necessary production capacity. So even when a vaccine is available, it won’t really be available to the masses.
Lastly, it would consume additional time to deliver the vaccine to all those who need it. This remains a challenge even for organizations like the World Health Organization.