Is there a vaccine for coronavirus?
Since COVID-19 swept through the world in early 2020, researchers have been hard at work developing a vaccine. Vaccines usually take 10 to 15 years to research, develop, and test before they’re ready for public use. However, the urgent need for a coronavirus vaccine means researchers are on the road to creating a vaccine as quickly as possible. Researchers worldwide are working to develop a vaccine, using a variety of methods to tackle the virus. While we don’t have a vaccine that’s approved for distribution yet, there are several vaccines that look promising.
COVID-19 vaccine timeline
Researchers worldwide have been developing more than 155 vaccines in hopes that one or more will work in fighting the coronavirus. Developing a vaccine requires multiple steps in which researchers test to confirm the vaccine is safe and that it works.
- Preclinical: Vaccines are not yet ready to be tested on humans
- Phase I: A safety trial where the vaccine is tested on few people
- Phase II: Expanded trials given to a variety of people
- Phase III: Efficacy trials given to thousands of people compared to a placebo
- Approval: Regulators review the results of phases I–III and approve or deny the use of the vaccine
Many vaccines are already in phase II of the development process, and some are even in phase III. The official approval process can also be waived to get a vaccine to the public faster. In an effort to get a vaccine ready as fast as possible, the United States government has created Operation Warp Speed which will give 5 or more promising vaccine projects billions of federal funding in support.
Types of coronavirus vaccines
When talking about vaccines, it’s important to know how our bodies fight infections. When foreign cells – like a virus – enter our body, our immune system responds to them by making proteins called antibodies to destroy the foreign cells before they replicate. Once your immune system recognizes a type of foreign cell, it’s able to kill it faster in the future, which is how we acquire immunity. Vaccines help us acquire immunity by introducing a virus into our bodies in a way that allows the immune system to learn how to fight it without making us sick. But there are many different ways to introduce a virus into our bodies, and each comes with its own set of pros and cons. Researchers are using the following 5 main ways to develop a coronavirus vaccine:
- Genetic vaccines: Injects virus DNA directly into the body so that our immune system will recognize and attack the virus. This is a faster vaccine to produce than viral vector vaccines, but because the DNA is introduced directly into the body, it can be lost or damaged, which means this style of vaccine can be less efficient.
- Protein-based vaccines: Uses a virus protein that our immune system recognizes and will attack (i.e., smallpox vaccine)
- Whole virus vaccines: Uses a weak or inactive virus to expose our immune system to the virus and trigger an immune response (i.e., polio vaccine)
- Repurposed vaccines: Testing to see if an already-created vaccine, like the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccine that protects against tuberculosis, could be effective against COVID-19
Right now, there are more genetic vaccines in testing than the other types of vaccines, but having multiple varieties of each style of vaccine in testing provides the best possibility that researchers discover an effective, safe vaccine as quickly as possible.
Updates on a coronavirus vaccine
So how close are we to getting a coronavirus vaccine? We’re closer to a vaccine than ever before, but still waiting for a vaccine that is approved for wide distribution. There is an American company that that has moved into human trials and into phase III of testing in July of 2020, joining other companies from China, the UK, and Germany also in phase III of testing.
Although we are closer to a coronavirus vaccine, it may still be a while until one is ready for distribution, so it’s important to stay healthy and follow CDC guidelines. In the meantime, continue social distancing practices, avoid gathering in large groups inside, regularly wash your hands, wear a mask when outside, and stay home if you don’t feel well. These efforts can work to keep our communities healthy and keep ICUs from being overwhelmed as researchers develop a vaccine.