How Close Are We to a Reliable COVID-19 Vaccine?

Europe is currently experiencing the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. With infections spiking out of control once again, the search for a vaccine has reemerged as a global health priority. Several nations are currently working on vaccines and glory as much as monetary rewards are inevitable for the race’s winner. A vaccine will eventually exist; however, another issue remains. What is the current status of a forthcoming vaccine?

US CDC: Vaccine Not Likely Until Summer of 2021

President Trump says there will be a vaccine at the “end of the year,” possibly “before that.” In the news of a successfully tested vaccine, he saw a glimmer of hope ahead of the presidential election on November 3, given the sharp rise in the number of cases and his miserable poll results. However, the head of the US Disease Protection Agency CDC, Robert Redfield, referred to the summer of 2021 as the date for a public, widely available vaccination – a schedule Trump has contradicted.

The US’s political public has long been discussing how to deal with a possible untested vaccine, especially since many people have lost confidence in the CDC.

The Challenge of Getting Everyone the Vaccine

Distributing the vaccine to 330 million Americans, one in ten without health insurance and tens of millions more inadequately insured could take months, a challenge that CDC Director Redfield acknowledges. Seven hundred million doses of vaccine will likely be available at the end of March and beginning of April. However, it will take April, May, June, and possibly July to vaccinate the American population fully.

In China, the second wave appears to be almost over. There are still occasional local outbreaks, but the authorities have now set up a gigantic test apparatus that can test several million residents within a few days.

The fact that the number of infections is down to practically zero is good news for the Chinese. However, it is detrimental for vaccine development. It is almost impossible to find out whether a vaccine protects against infection. Therefore, the Chinese developers test their vaccines in more than a dozen other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. In return, Beijing promises them preferential access to a vaccine.

Chinese Vaccine Candidates

There are currently four Chinese vaccine candidates going through phase three, meaning they are already clinically tested. One each comes from Sinovac and CanSino and two from Sinopharm. None has approval yet, but vaccination is already taking place on a large scale in China. With reference to emergency rules, the country has already administered vaccines to hundreds of thousands of people, mostly soldiers and employees in state-run companies.

In Russia, three state-owned companies are developing a coronavirus vaccine. So far, the Moscow Gamaleja Institute for Epidemiology and Microbiology has led the race. Its vaccine Sputnik-5 is in test phase 3 and reportedly sampled on 40,000 volunteers.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin presented the second vaccine, EpiVacCorona, from the vector laboratory at a government meeting last week. The official registration of EpiVacCorona with the health supervisory authority was “good news,” according to Russian officials. The third vaccine, developed by the Chumakov Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, is soon to come. In November, the second test phase concludes. According to Academy President Alexander Sergejew, there should be no adverse side effects.

Russia and India’s Vaccine Efforts

There are also doubts about Russia’s ambitious plans to deliver the vaccine to the world. After all, the country is arguably already struggling to meet the needs of its own population. Previously, the state fund for direct investment, which finances the development of Sputnik-V, said that 30 million doses of the vaccine would be produced locally by the end of 2020, and up to 170 million abroad.

India, with its population of 1.3 billion, is currently recording 45,000 new infections every day. With almost 7.6 million cases and around 154,000 deaths, India is one of the countries most severely affected by Covid-19 worldwide. The first human test phase for two vaccine candidates began in July.

Bharat Biotech develops one called Covaxin and has already created successful vaccines against the H1N1 virus, Japanese encephalitis, and the rotavirus. The country produces 60 percent of all global vaccines.

When it comes to production, the leading player is the Serum Institute, the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world in terms of vaccine doses. The Serum Institute cooperates with the US companies Novavax and Codagenix and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

Its CEO Adar Poonawalla said in the summer that if AZD1222 were approved, the Serum Institute would distribute half of the targeted one billion vaccine doses to India and the other half to the “rest of the world, especially developing countries.”

Poonawalla expects a vaccine to be ready for the market by the end of 2020. However, he also emphasizes that pharmaceutical companies and governments are not creating enough production capacities. A worldwide double vaccination would require 15 billion vaccine doses. “As things stand today, it will take four to five years for the whole world to be vaccinated,” he told the Financial Times.

The Bottom Line

The most advanced vaccine to date in the UK is developed by AstraZeneca, which the company is jointly developing with Oxford University. At the beginning of October, the European Medicines Agency Ema initiated an accelerated approval process for the active ingredient called AZD1222. However, Ema warned that it could take months to test it on humans.

The other two active ingredients, which the government is hoping for early success, are being developed at Imperial College London and by the Novavax company. Johnson pre-ordered 90 million vaccine doses months ago. This week, the government announced funding for a study that will inject 90 young males with the virus and begin in January. This method potentially allows researchers to develop a vaccine more quickly.

While vaccine development goes on, problems remain that have by no means has been resolved until now. The distribution of vaccinations to the population is the more accessible part. However, vaccination itself already has its pitfalls. Not because of the vaccination products, but because there will be many people who do not want to be vaccinated. In Russia, for example, nearly half of Russia (45.6 percent) do not want to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, neither with a domestic nor with a foreign vaccine. The US faces similar issues since 20 percent refuse vaccination, while only half of Americans are inclined to take a vaccine (49 percent).

The development and distribution of a vaccine is only part of the solution. The other will be to convince the respective populations to get the inoculation.