COVID-19 Vaccine Race
There have been more than 13 million people worldwide who have been infected with COVID-19, and about 580,000 people dead so far within the first seven months of the discovery of the virus. One of the worst epidemics that we have faced as a globe was the Black Death, a.k.a. the Bubonic Plague, which killed between 75–200 million people across Europe, Africa and Asia from 1346–1353. Scientists in almost every country are now researching a vaccine for COVID-19 so that things can go back to normal again. Thus, many countries are now up in a Vaccine Race to see who can create the first viable human vaccine, where millions and millions of dollars are funded for research into a COVID-19 vaccine. We take a look at the current progress of the COVID-19 vaccine research.
England—University of Oxford & Astrazeneca Plc
At the moment, a COVID-19 vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford in collaboration with British pharmaceutical giant Astrazeneca Plc is in the lead. This is made possible by Prof. Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology at the University of Oxford and co-founder of Vaccitech. Prior to the discovery of the SARS‑CoV‑2 virus a.k.a. the novel coronavirus responsible for COVID-19, the Oxford team headed by Prof. Sarah Gilbert has been researching vaccines for other viruses such as Ebola and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS. MERS was first discovered in Saudi Arabia in 2012, but the outbreak only occurred in 2014, and with a fatality rate of about 33%, it’s much deadlier than COVID-19. Through their past experience dealing with viruses and trying to create vaccines, they are set to be through with human trials by September, after which they would be producing billions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines if all goes well.
India—Bharat Biotech International Ltd
An Indian vaccine maker, Bharat Biotech International Ltd, has announced that they have received approval from the Indian government to begin human clinical trials in early July. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) even stated that they expect all human clinical trials to be completed soon and for the vaccine to be made available for public use by 15 August. However, many have also taken to criticising their expectations, including Anant Bhan, a medical researcher from Manipal University in India, as well as Jayaprakash Muliyil, chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee in National Institute of Epidemiology. They have noted that vaccines typically take a few years to be developed, so even if the COVID-19 vaccine were to be produced by sometime next year, that would already be a record.
USA & Germany—Pfizer & BioNTech
Pfizer Inc (USA) and BioNTech SE (Germany) were granted Fast Track designation for two of the companies’ investigational vaccine candidates from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that the development and review of the COVID-19 vaccine by the two collaborating companies will be expedited in order that the development of the final product would arrive as soon as possible. They are expecting to start the last phase of their clinical trials later in July, and if this trial is successful, they would be able to manufacture up to 100 million doses of the vaccine by the end of this year, and 1.2 billion doses by the end of 2021. However, it should be noted that in order for herd immunity to take place, at least 70% of the world’s population would need to be vaccinated. This means 5.6 billion people would require the vaccine. If a booster dose is needed like in the case of some vaccines, that means a minimum of 11.2 billion doses of vaccines would need to be produced.
Russia—Sechenov University & Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology
Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University in Russia has announced that they have concluded clinical trials of a Covid-19 vaccine candidate, making Russia the first country to achieve this developmental milestone. Volunteers from the trial will be released, and then monitored. The vaccine was developed by Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology, and Sechenov University assessed it in powder form as preparation for an intramuscular solution. As of Tuesday, 11 August 2020, Russia has announced that they have the world’s first approved coronavirus vaccine for public use, named Sputnik V. However, many are sceptical about their claims, especially when they have yet to release any data from their vaccine research to others. Russia had also eliminated the need for Phase 3 vaccine trials prior to approval, while other countries are currently conducting Phase 3 tests.
If the COVID-19 vaccine is developed by 2021, it would break the record for the fastest vaccine to be developed, since prior to this, the fastest vaccine to be developed, which was for the Ebola virus, took five years. Regardless of development time, there are other issues to be considered, such as availability and cost, so at the beginning, it could be too expensive for most people until it can be sufficiently mass-produced to bring costs down, and that would also take some time. Anyhow, the good news is that the COVID-19 vaccine is coming very soon. Let us know in the comments which country do you think will develop the first vaccine for the public market!
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