How COVID-19 Vaccines Were Quickly Developed
On average, vaccines take about 10 years to develop. It’s an incredible process that undergoes several phases, the most extreme scrutiny, and, of course, billions of dollars in investments. In recent years, the fastest vaccine to have been developed was the childhood vaccine for mumps, and that still took 4 painstaking years of development.
Naturally, when COVID-19 vaccines were announced merely a year after the disease was identified, many questions popped up concerning their safety and efficacy. According to a survey conducted by Nature Medicine across 19 countries, only about 71.5% of the respondents were willing to accept a COVID-19 vaccine, and 48.1% if their employer recommended it. Although vaccine hesitancy remains high, more and more people have been vaccinated in recent months all over the globe, with more distributions along the way. So how come COVID-19 vaccines were created in such a short amount of time? Are you worried that the speedy development of the vaccines compromised their safety and introduced unprecedented risks? Should you get the vaccine? Today’s article aims to answer all of the above questions and give you important information regarding the creation of COVID-19 vaccines. Here’s how we manufactured vaccines in a short span of time:
As the virus spreads across the world, no country is safe. Governments scrambled to halt the spread and conceived various protocols to protect their citizens. Despite our differences, we all agreed: this is a deadly virus. Racing against time, scientists around the world collaborated with each other to achieve the singular goal of eradicating COVID-19.
An article by Medical News Today highlighted how researchers were able to quickly uncover the viral sequence of SARS-CoV-2 only 10 days after the initial reports of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China. This was a direct result of researchers openly sharing their data with each other.
Existing Data & Years of Advance Research
Usually, the first 4-5 years of vaccine manufacturing is spent getting vaccine candidates to a degree where it’s safe and ethical for human trials. However, thanks to our existing data on closely related coronaviruses of the past, the length of this process was radically shortened.
Prior research on SARS (SARS-CoV-1) and MERS (MERS-CoV) filled in some gaps for the COVID-19 vaccines, where the risks and benefits of each vaccine candidate were highly similar. Furthermore, organizations such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) have spent years investing in early stage vaccines – preparing them for human trials and getting ready for a possible yet-to-be discovered disease.
It is no question that the creation of vaccines requires large investments, with very little return. So much more so in an accelerated timetable. Thankfully, with both the government sector and private sectors funding vaccine development, we’re able to roll out batches of vaccine doses at a much faster rate.
Organizations like Operation Warp Speed (OWS), partnered with NIH and CDC quickly mobilized to manufacture and distribute hundreds of millions of vaccines. By investing in multiple companies and vaccine platforms, they were able to significantly increase the chances of getting a working vaccine by early 2021.
The European Commission and the UK government Vaccine Taskforce have also been instrumental in vaccine research, with $8 billion and more spent in developing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Rigorous Testing & Larger Trials
The FDA employs meticulous guidelines when reviewing data from clinical trials before any approvals are made. They observe strict protocols with data monitoring and must be closely examined by a safety board.
As stated by Medical News Today, these are the various phases clinical trials must undergo during vaccine development:
A phase 1 trial focuses on the safety of the vaccine candidate. Escalating doses of the vaccine are given to healthy volunteers to determine side effects and tolerability.
Phase 2 trials expand their recruitment and may include participants with health conditions such as obesity, cancer, and diabetes. There is also active recruitment for participants of various demographics. The trial continues to test the safety of the vaccine and looks at the drug’s initial efficacy and how it affects the immune system.
Phase 3 trials recruit thousands of participants to measure the efficacy of the vaccine in preventing disease.
Compared with vaccines of the past, the COVID-19 vaccine researchers organized a much larger number of clinical trials, expediting this process even more as well as drawing more data to work with.
We’ve made such remarkable strides in the field of vaccine research that vaccine creation has become much faster and more easily made available to a large number of people. With organizations and governments all over the world coming together to secure virus-ending doses, the progress we keep making over time increases exponentially.
Of course, despite the speed of the creation of COVID-19 vaccines, you need not worry that they might have cut corners or rushed through safety protocols. In normal times, 10-15 years to create a vaccine might be acceptable, but these are not normal times. Testing and research remains ever thorough, just at a much faster pace. With the help of funding and cooperation between research groups from different areas of the world, and the tireless work from all the involved disciplines, we’ve been given the tools to fight this previously unknown disease. Now what remains is the general population’s willingness to be vaccinated.