Everyone is waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine, but is it a futile task?

From medical workers struggling to care for the rising tide of Covid-19 patients to the billions of people told to stay home to slow the pandemic, everyone is waiting for one thing: a vaccine. There is no known treatment for the new coronavirus that emerged in China late last year and has since proliferated across the planet, infecting more than half a million people and claiming more than 30,000 lives.


In mid-January, researchers from China published the genetic sequence of the virus, firing the starting gun for dozens of research labs across the world in the race to find effective drugs. The approaches have varied dramatically. Some teams are looking at the effects of existing medicines as potential treatments, some are experimenting with repurposing common drugs. Others are using cutting-edge technologies to fashion radically new types of vaccines.

Just over 60 days after the genetic sequence of Covid-19 was shared, the first potential vaccine began human trials. World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed it “an incredible achievement” and experts have raised cautious hopes that a vaccine will be ready within 18 months. This may seem like a dauntingly long time for those in the path of the virus.

But Seth Berkley, the head of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, has cautioned that it normally takes between 10 and 15 years for a drug to go from development, through testing phases and onto licensing and large-scale manufacture, although the Ebola vaccine was ready in five.

“How lucky will we be in getting a good immune response? Which approaches will work? Will they be scalable?” he said in an interview with the TED organisation last week.

Berkley told AFP that a possible way to speed up the licencing process – a way that worked during the Ebola response – could be to get a drug that shows efficacy and run a clinical trial with health workers. “There could be areas where you could give an experimental vaccine under informed consent, and use it to try to help with the epidemic before you have that licensed product,” he said.

But he cautioned against rushing the broader licencing process for a vaccine or vaccines that could be used across the world. “We need to make sure what we do makes sense, is safe and has efficacy. I know that seems like a luxury we don’t have time for but it is very important,” he said.

GAVI, which is making funding available for lower-income countries to respond to the coronavirus crisis, has urged world leaders to ensure potential treatments and vaccines are accessible to everyone.

Amid concerns over a shortfall in global cooperation over the virus, G20 nations on Thursday announced a $5-trillion injection to boost the global economy and pledged to “work together to increase research and development funding for vaccines and medicines”.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a global organisation based in Oslo, has called for $2 billion to support the development of a vaccine. Meanwhile, the United States is funding several companies through its Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and National Institutes of Health (NIH). FOLLOW THE LINK TO CONTINUE READING