Vaccine development is a complex procedure based on a number of lengthy steps.
But researchers racing to develop one for COVID-19 – which threatens to lock entire countries until it can be stopped – are breaking through these phases at an unprecedented pace, scientists say.
One vaccine against rotavirus, a virus that causes deadly diarrhea in children, has taken 26 years to report, the Washington Post reported, and one of its creators called it “quite typical.”
Scientists must first detect the virus against which they intend to make a vaccine – meaning they deconstruct it to investigate its internal function.
This process was accelerated because the Chinese officials who discovered the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus mapped the virus and shared it worldwide for free at the outbreak.
Scientists also noted that it is nearly identical to the disease that causes SARS, a similar disease that struck Asia in 2002/3. This saves time because researchers already knew which areas of the virus they could target, and some had already tried to make SARS vaccines, which could serve as a blueprint for tackling COVID-19.
Trials, which begin after a vaccine has been carefully designed and produced in a laboratory, also take a long time. First, scientists must repeatedly test the vaccine on animals such as mice or monkeys.
If it proves to be safe, it should progress to very small tests in humans, then progressively larger ones, as its safety and effectiveness is constantly monitored.
Often human trials take months or even years, so scientists can be absolutely sure that the vaccine will have no harmful side effects.
If there are hiccups, the researchers may need to adjust the chemical composition of the vaccine and start over.
If it goes well, the vaccine can go through to the production phase and be mass produced and sold to the people or governments who need it.
Scientists have claimed they could have a vaccine ready for COVID-19 by September this year, a breakthrough rate that critics say is unlikely.
Immunization expert at Imperial College London, Professor Robin Shattock said, “It is very unlikely that a vaccine will be available for use in September.
“It is critical to build the evidence base to show that a vaccine works before it is deployed. This takes time and depends on seeing a difference in the number of infections between active vaccine and a placebo.
“The lower the transmission speed in the UK, the longer it takes to generate such data.”