Drug developers, academic institutions and government agencies across the globe are investigating more than 100 potential vaccines for the coronavirus. The Trump administration on Wednesday identified a handful of organizations that it believes are the most likely to produce a viable vaccine candidate, The New York Times reported. This is the latest step in the administration’s Operation Warp Speed project, which aims to have substantial quantities of a safe and effective vaccine available for Americans by January 2021.
The listed companies in that group include Moderna (MRNA), AstraZeneca (AZN), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Merck (MRK) and Pfizer (PEF), as well as the University of Oxford. Selection as finalists in the project provides the organizations with access to additional government funding to accelerate the development of their vaccines. Prior to the announcement, the federal government had already provided $2.2 billion to Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
A compressed timeline
Funding support aside, the complexity of bringing a safe and effective vaccine to market is staggering and has historically been measured in years, not months. To date, the fastest a vaccine has ever been brought to market is in four to five years, and that was the mumps vaccine in 1967, according to National Geographic. Now, with advanced sequencing techniques and unprecedented computing and financial resources, entities the world over are collaborating to compress that timeline into 12 to 18 months.
On Bill Gates’ blog, he offers a visual timeline (a screenshot of which is below) of just how short of a time frame organizations are striving for when it comes to developing a coronavirus vaccine.
With the number of candidates out there, the question is not about if or when a vaccine will come to fruition, but rather how effective the vaccine will be, how long it will provide protection for the patient, how it will be manufactured in sufficient quantities and how it will be distributed equitably and affordably.
The fact that the most pressing questions are related to logistics and distribution as opposed to scientific feasibility is a testament to the advances that have been made in the life science ecosystem. However, we still do not have a reliable treatment, vaccine, or adequate testing, and America is well on its way to opening back up. Until those problems are addressed, we all must do our part to utilize personal protective equipment, maintain social distancing and interact in a way that supports the health and safety of our communities.