When will the Coronavirus Vaccine be Ready?

Even the most rigorous containment strategies have only slowed down the spread of the respiratory disease Covid-19.

The World Health Organization finally declared a pandemic, and everyone is concerned about the vaccine since only it can stop making people sick.

About 35 companies and academic institutions are trying to create such a vaccine, and at least four of them already have candidates started testing in animals. Boston-based biotech firm Moderna produces the first of these. It will begin with human trials in April.

This fast speed is largely thanks to early Chinese efforts to sequence the genetic material of Sars-CoV-2. That is the virus which causes Covid-19.

China shared their knowledge in early January and allowed research groups around the world to grow the live virus and study how it manages to invade the human cells.

“The speed with which we have [produced these candidates] builds very much on the investment in understanding how to develop vaccines for other coronaviruses,” said Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Oslo-based nonprofit the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi).

Coronaviruses have caused two other epidemics, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in China in 2002-04, and also the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers). It started in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

Sars-CoV-2 shares around 80% and 90% of its genetic material with the virus, which caused Sars. They both consist of a strip of ribonucleic acid (RNA), which is located inside a spherical protein capsule. That capsule is covered in spikes.

Clinical trials usually take place in three phases. The first involves a few healthy volunteers, tests the vaccine for safety, and monitors for adverse effects. The second one involves several hundred people, usually in a part of the world that is affected by the disease and looks at how effective the vaccine is.  The third phase is the same, but it is done on several thousand people.