What is the world doing to create a Covid-19 vaccine?

Aug 28, 2020, 11:59 AM

A global effort is underway to develop and mass-produce an effective vaccine to counter the new, deadly and high infectious coronavirus disease, Covid-19.

Many governments have warned that daily life cannot return to normal until their population have built up antibodies to fend off the virus. Accelerated clinical trials are already but vaccine development often takes years.  Developing a successful vaccine is not enough. Many countries also face the looming challenge of producing quantities necessary to provide immunity to all their citizens, and competition is growing over who will have access once a vaccine is ready.

There are more than one hundred vaccines in preclinical development by pharmaceutical companies, academic institutions, government agencies, and others. More than seventy of these are being tracked by the World Health Organisation [WHO].

More than half of these potential vaccines are being developed by firms and research groups in China and the United States. The first human trial in the United States began in Seattle in March with a vaccine by Moderna Inc., which is now undergoing large-scale trial involving tens of thousands of participants. Other U.S.-based candidates include ones by pharmaceutical giants Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Pfizer. In China, Beijing has already approved one of its vaccine candidates for limited use by the military. Russia also approved a vaccine—to be initially distributed to vulnerable groups—after testing it in fewer than one hundred people, drawing censure from scientists around the globe.

Additionally, several candidates each are being developed in Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The UK’s University of Oxford and British-Swedish company AstraZeneca are working on a vaccine that’s already in large-scale trials in Brazil, South Africa, and the United States. While several of these candidates are already spurring hope, experts warn that it’s too early to determine which, if any, will be successful on a large scale.

Vaccines are frequently collaborative efforts across sectors of society, with private pharmaceutical firms teaming up with public health agencies or university labs. For instance, a recently approved Ebola vaccine was ultimately developed by multinational pharmaceutical company Merck but also involved Canadian and U.S. public health agencies, a tiny Iowa-based biotech firm, U.S. Defense Department researchers, and the WHO. Here are snapshots of some of the major players in the COVID-19 vaccine search.

Public health agencies play critical roles in vaccine research, supplying funds to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. In the United States, President Donald J. Trump’s administration launched a project known as Operation Ward Speed aimed at developing an effective vaccine and manufacturing enough doses for all three hundred million Americans by early 2021. The effort, which has pledged billions of dollars to companies with promising vaccine candidates, brings together agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—and the Department of Defense. The European Commission is also funding several candidates; and in a virtual summit hosted by the European Union, world leaders, organizations, and banks pledged $8 billion for vaccine research. In China, the government is closely overseeing efforts on its territory, with state-owned firms making up about two-fifths of the country’s vaccine industry.

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