How Long a Vaccine Could Take
Dozens of possible coronavirus vaccines are in various stages of development around the world, according to the World Health Organization. But even when researchers find one that works, it could be a year or more before it’s ready for the public.
Before any vaccine can be used widely, it must go through phases of testing to make sure that it’s effective against the virus and that it doesn’t cause other problems. Phase I usually involves fewer than 100 people. That number goes up to several hundred for phase II and thousands in phase III. Then, scientists with the FDA and CDC review the data from these trials and sign off. The clinical trial process usually lasts 15 years or more.
Experts say they expect the testing of a coronavirus vaccine to take a fraction of that time. But it may still be 12 to 18 months, at best.
A Promising First Step
This version of the coronavirus only surfaced in late 2019, but scientists in Seattle are already conducting the first vaccine clinical trial. They’ve gotten a boost from research on some similar coronaviruses that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Efforts to fight those diseases played a large role in the record speed of the first COVID-19 vaccine trial that’s now underway.
After the Trials
Some of the companies working on vaccines are also looking for ways to ramp up production quickly when the clinical trials find one that works. Moderna, maker of the experimental vaccine being tested in Seattle, says that if it’s approved, the company could put out 100 million doses in a year if it focused all its efforts on that one product. With more than 300 million people in the United States alone, mass vaccination will be a team effort.
Experts say the coronavirus could turn out to be seasonal, like colds and the flu. A vaccine might not be ready until after the current pandemic is over, but it may be vital if the cycle begins again.