The number of coronavirus cases worldwide reached the one million mark this week, rapidly spreading in many populations across the world. Many clinical trials of vaccines against COVID-19 have been launched since the virus was first announced. The problem is a vaccine usually takes many years to be made available in the market. However, experts are positive that a vaccine is likely to be available 18 to 24 months from now.
While this seems a short time for a vaccine to be released, this also shows that COVID-19 will not disappear anytime soon. The World Health Organization even said that eradication of a disease is “difficult and rarely achieved.” "I think it's unlikely that this coronavirus — because it's so readily transmissible — will disappear completely," Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, said.
According to Live Science, a science news website that features groundbreaking developments in science, space, technology, health, the environment, our culture, and history, for a disease to disappear, there must be an available intervention to interrupt transmission, diagnostic tools to detect cases that could lead to transmission and humans must be the only reservoir for the virus. Unfortunately, if the coronavirus continues to survive in its natural form in animal reservoirs, and these reservoirs can put the virus back into the circulation even if the virus is already eradicated among humans.
"I think it's always possible the thing has one cycle, we nail it, it doesn't mutate and it's eradicated. But I think the most likely prospect is that we don't entirely eradicate it,” Joshua Epstein, a professor of epidemiology at New York University, said.
Why the Coronavirus Vaccine Will Take a Shorter Time to Be Available
While a COVID-19 vaccine is very much needed, rushing to present a cure to the market without appropriate testing could put healthy people at risk. A vaccine should undergo a clinical trial process to make sure that it will be both safe and effective before making them available to the public. One risk that could happen if scientists bypass this is called vaccine enhancement, which means the disease is more harmful to a vaccinated person.
According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas, the process usually involves several phases and takes approximately ten years. Fortunately, many governments and scientists are making the effort to expedite the process to create a coronavirus vaccine, while also maintaining safety and efficacy standards.
The reason why the vaccine for the coronavirus will only take a year is largely due to early Chinese efforts to sequence the genetic material of COVID-19. China has shared that sequence to many countries, allowing research groups around the world to grow the live virus and study how it invades human cells and makes people sick. Aside from that, new technologies are enabling faster responses to new disease outbreaks like the current pandemic. This has decreased several years from the traditional vaccine development timeline.
Recent reports show that about 35 companies and academic institutions are racing to create such a vaccine. At least four of them already have candidates they have been testing on animals. Another reason for the head start is that vaccinologists had hedged their bets by working on “prototype” pathogens. Many vaccines were already created when two other recent epidemics, severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in China from 2002 to 2004 and Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), happened.
The available vaccines are being used to help create a vaccine for COVID-19. For instance, Maryland-based Novavax has now repurposed those vaccines for the virus. According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, the company has several vaccine candidates ready to enter human trials this spring. Meanwhile, another company, Moderna, built on earlier work on the Mers virus conducted at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland.
“The speed with which we have [produced these candidates] builds very much on the investment in understanding how to develop vaccines for other coronaviruses,” Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Oslo-based nonprofit the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), which is leading efforts to finance and coordinate COVID-19 vaccine development, said.
Coronavirus Vaccine Progress
As of now, there more than 20 vaccines are being developed, which is happening faster than would normally be the case. For instance, the first human trial for a vaccine was announced last month by scientists at a lab in the US city of Seattle, while Australian scientists have started injecting ferrets with two potential vaccines.
Recently, scientists from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine announced a potential vaccine against COVID-19. Co-senior author Louis Falo, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of dermatology at Pitt's School of Medicine and UPMC, stated that they have rapidly developed a vaccine due to scientists with expertise in diverse areas of research working together with a common goal. The researchers used a more established approach instead of the experimental mRNA vaccine candidate that just entered clinical trials.
According to Science Daily, an American website that aggregates press releases and publishes lightly edited press releases about science, the team also used a novel approach to deliver the drug, called a microneedle array, to increase potency. "We developed this to build on the original scratch method used to deliver the smallpox vaccine to the skin, but as a high-tech version that is more efficient and reproducible patient to patient. And it's actually pretty painless -- it feels kind of like Velcro,” Falo said.
The researchers also said that they were able to make so much progress because they had already laid the groundwork during earlier coronavirus epidemics. "We had previous experience on SARS-CoV in 2003 and MERS-CoV in 2014. These two viruses, which are closely related to SARS-CoV-2, teach us that a particular protein, called a spike protein, is important for inducing immunity against the virus. We knew exactly where to fight this new virus. That's why it's important to fund vaccine research. You never know where the next pandemic will come from,” co-senior author Andrea Gambotto, M.D., associate professor of surgery at the Pitt School of Medicine, said.