COVID-19 Vaccine: The Race is On

The spread of COVID-19 has been relentless. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the disease a pandemic. As of June 16, 2020, there were 8,043,487 confirmed cases and 439,487 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 worldwide. Many countries’ lockdown response slowed the progression of the disease; but, until a vaccine is found, there will be no stopping it.

Given the far-reaching societal and financial consequences of COVID-19, finding a vaccine has become a top priority worldwide. Reports indicate that scientists are hoping to have a vaccine ready by early 2021; a lot will need to happen between now and then to make it a reality.

Accelerated vaccine process

Vaccines usually take several years to develop. In COVID-19’s case, however, protocols for vaccine trials have been accelerated. Two crucial ways development has changed:

Testing timelines are condensed

Human and animal testing are being performed at the same time. Although some have misgivings about skipping straight to human trials, there is no denying that we are in unprecedented times and a new approach may be warranted. For example, the highly-publicized vaccine from Moderna has gone straight to human trials. Moderna’s vaccine uses RNA technology to create an immune response, unlike traditional vaccines that use a weakened or dead form of the virus. Time will tell if the technology is successful.

Large-scale vaccine production before approval

The U.S. government is working in tandem with companies to begin large-scale production of vaccines before approval. This strategy will ensure that when a viable vaccine is found, it can be distributed immediately. DNA and RNA-based vaccines are thought to be the easiest to reproduce because they use an easily replicated synthetic process. RNA-based vaccines for other diseases were in clinical trials before the COVID-19 outbreak, and so far, none of those have been approved. However, the technology shows so much promise that two COVID-19 RNA vaccines are in Phase 2 trials.

11 vaccines in clinical evaluation

As of June 16, 11 vaccines were in clinical trials and 128 vaccines are in preclinical evaluation. A quick breakdown of the vaccines in clinical trials:

Type of vaccine

Number of vaccines being tested

Developer

Non-replicating viral vector

2

  • University of Oxford/AstraZeneca
  • CanSino Biological Inc./Beijing Institute of Biotechnology

RNA

3

  • Moderna/NIAID
  • BioNTech/Fosun Pharma/Pfizer
  • Imperial College London

Inactivated

4

  • Wuhan Institute of Biological Products/Sinopharm
  • Beijing Institute of Biological Products/Sinopharm
  • Sinovac
  • Institute of Medical Biology, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences

Protein subunit

1

Novavax

DNA

1

Inovio Pharmaceuticals

For a full breakdown of vaccines visit WHO.org.

Where we are likely to go from here

Phase 3 of clinical trials involve giving it to thousands of people and monitoring the results. The non-replicating viral vector vaccine (from Oxford University) is enrolling 10,260 people to participate in Phase 3 trials. Other vaccines will soon follow.

After a successful trial, results are reviewed and approved. Since production has already begun, distributing the new vaccine should progress quickly.  AstraZeneca has pledged at least 2 billion doses if their vaccine is approved. The U.S. government has pledged to make 300 million doses of a successful vaccine by January 2021.

The latest vaccine news

Preliminary study results published by Sinovac indicate that the vaccine is safe and produces antibodies in over 90% of people who are vaccinated with two shots. The next steps include publishing Phase 2 study results and developing a protocol for a Phase 3 clinical trial. 

Moderna announced that the Phase 3 protocol has been finalized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and will begin testing with approximately 30,000 participants in July.

AstraZeneca recently entered into agreements that will provide wide-spread distribution via Europe’s Inclusive Vaccines Alliance (IVA); this agreement is expected to supply Europe with 400 million doses of the University of Oxford vaccine. Additionally, AstraZeneca has already reached similar agreements with companies and organizations in the U.K., U.S. and India.

Some positive news in the meantime

Oxford researchers announced that the steroid dexamethasone had shown promising results in the treatment of COVID-19. The treatment reduced deaths by one-third in ventilated patients and one-fifth in patients using oxygen. More welcome news is the price of the drug, which can cost as little as $10.68 for 60 tablets at 4 mg.

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