The COVID-19 pandemic continues to ebb and flow all around the world. It’s been so long. We’re tired and ready for it all to just be over. After so many months, the only thing that seems to give many people hope is the ongoing development toward a working coronavirus vaccine.
Understanding the immediacy for this particular vaccine, the U.S. initiated Operation Warp Speed back when the pandemic first started. It provided sizable financial incentives to pharmaceutical companies to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible. But it also still needs to be done safely. And it needs to be effective for the majority of people who receive it.
What is the process behind the development of a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine? And, most importantly, how is it actually progressing these days?
Read on to learn more about where things stand.
The Coronavirus Vaccine Development Process
There is certainly a sense of urgency in this case. However, the development process for a coronavirus vaccine still requires ample time and strict protocols.
The vaccine needs to work with a certain expected minimum of effectiveness. And it also needs to be relatively safe when it comes to potential side effects.
For this, coronavirus vaccine development has to go through the same steps that every new vaccine must take:
- Preclinical stage: figuring out how a vaccine would work.
- Phase 1/2a and 2b trials: testing on small groups for effectiveness and safety; dosage amounts. (While typically separate, pharmaceutical companies can conduct Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials at the same time for expediency.)
- Phase 3 trials: testing on larger groups for effectiveness and safety.
- FDA approval: done after making sure that the manufacturing of a vaccine is consistent, and that similar levels of immunity can be expected in recipients.
- Phase 4: distribution and observation of long-term effects.
How is Development Progressing?
Several major pharmaceutical companies–including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, and Moderna–have reached the trial stages of coronavirus vaccine development. Unfortunately, a few Phase 3 trials have had to be paused, with one or more trial participants each presenting with unexpected complications. The hope is that companies can swiftly pin down the causes behind such complications. Then, they can make any necessary adjustments and resume their trials.
Companies in China and Russia claim to have developed working vaccines. So, those countries are moving swiftly to gain approvals. But it remains to be seen if those vaccines can actually live up to their makers’ promises.
To date, there is no vaccine authorized for use in the U.S. But progress continues to happen daily. As of this writing, a safe working vaccine is hopefully predicted to be available sometime in the first half of 2021.
What Happens When a Coronavirus Vaccine is Approved?
If and when the FDA approves a vaccine, a certain amount of rejoicing will certainly be warranted. But then come the tasks of making enough of that vaccine, and then distributing it throughout the U.S. and the world.
Not everyone will be able to get the vaccine right away. Vaccine distribution needs to be staggered to both protect the most vulnerable first and ensure a good pace for consistent manufacturing. It needs to be done fairly and transparently, and without an eye on cost. (As in, no one can pay to cut in line.) Especially if supply is limited, the following people should be vaccinated first, as determined by the CDC:
- Healthcare workers
- Other essential/critical workers
- People with underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk of severe illness
- People aged 65 years or older
For everyone else, hope will need to be tempered with patience. But heck, we’ve waited so long already. What’s a couple more months? When the time comes, the promise of a vaccine can at least provide an actual light at the end of this long tunnel.
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