As the coronavirus pandemic emerged scientists and epidemiologists have been racing against the spread of the virus to develop an effective vaccination. When the development of vaccinations began, experts predicted that a 12-18 timeline was hoped for, meaning that an effective vaccination should be available by mid-2021. Whilst this timeline still seems to be universally maintained by experts, others optimistically hope to have a vaccination begin distribution by the beginning of 2021. Over 100 vaccinations are in development worldwide, many are still in pre-clinical development, but others have entered human trials and are even looking to enter the next stage of human trials later this year.
Overall, the World Health Organisation, lists over 100 candidates worldwide that are developing a vaccination, and according to highly-regarded medical journal The Lancet, a report published on June 6th opened with ‘Vaccine makers are racing to develop COVID-19 vaccines, and have advanced ten candidates into clinical trials.’ Quoting, Penny Heaton, a vaccinologist and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute, the Lancet writes: “What’s happened so far has been nothing short of amazing… previous investments in new vaccine technology platforms made this possible.”
During a press conference, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization Dr Soumya Swaminathan, said, “We are entering a new phase now of vaccine trials, the Phase III trials, the ones that will definitely prove whether or not the vaccine is efficacious and safe, I’m hopeful, I’m optimistic. But vaccine development is a complex undertaking. It comes with a lot of uncertainty. The good thing is we have many vaccine candidates and platforms, so even if the first one fails, or the second one fails, we shouldn’t lose hope, we shouldn’t give up.” The WHO ‘hopes that by the end of the year, a few hundred doses will be ready, reaching 2 billion by the end of 2021’ according to IFL Science.
According to the BBC, ‘The trials are among many across the world – there are around 120 vaccine programmes under way… A further 13 are now in clinical trials: five in China, three in the United States, two in the UK, one in Australia, Germany and Russia.’ The vaccinations in the UK in the first phase of human trials are being developed by Oxford University and Imperial College London, and are in human trials after tests in animals have proven to be safe and generate an effective immune response. Hundreds of volunteers have signed up to take part in the human tests of the vaccines.
At the forefront of the clinical trials is the vaccination being developed by The University of Oxford, which initiated the first human trial in Europe in April. Oxford University’s group developing this vaccination ‘have signed a deal with AstraZeneca to supply 100 million doses (30 million for the UK) if it works’ according to the BBC.
One of the most recent trials in the UK is for the Imperial vaccine, led by Prof Robin Shattock and his colleagues, at Imperial College London. Although many vaccinations are developed from weakened or modified forms of the concerned virus, the Imperial vaccination uses synthetic strands of genetic code (RNA) developed to mimic the virus. Inside the body, the RNA will generate copies of itself and instruct the body’s cells to do the same, in order to train the immune system to defend against COVID-19 without developing it.
According to the BBC’s Fergus Walsh, ‘Because only a tiny amount of genetic code is used in the Imperial vaccine, a little goes a very long way. The Imperial team says one litre of its synthetic material will be enough to produce two million doses.’ As this approach is relatively new and differs from traditional vaccines, it is being pursued with caution, testing it on one person to begin with and then gradually increasing to 100 a day.
However, even if a vaccination proves successful, there will be factors in need of consideration, in order to roll out the vaccine worldwide, which is an issue that The Lancet, outlined in their report. ‘Global appetite for any successful vaccines, if and when they are ready, will bring its own difficulties. Developers are starting to scale up production even now, despite the risk that their favored candidates will fall short. Distribution, delivery, and administration need to be worked out. And then there is the issue of access. With the public sector investing heavily in the development of these vaccines, there are growing calls for universal vaccine accessibility, but nationalistic, geographical, and commercial factors could stand in the way.’