At the beginning of the calendar year, researchers in China released the genetic sequence of the Sars-Cov-2 virus, allowing scientists worldwide to begin work on a vaccine. The fastest vaccine development from testing to approval is the mumps vaccine released to the public in 1971 after beginning research in 1967. Countries around the world hope to beat this record and have heavily funded companies conducting COVID-19 research.
Since the nation’s initial outbreak, there have been discrepancies about the vaccine’s timeline between politicians and scientists, invoking skepticism about the vaccine among Americans. The vaccine development phase is lengthy and requires continual positive results in three different trials before it can even be considered as a viable candidate. China and Russia have granted early approval to a few vaccines despite none completing all trial phases. This negligence could have deadly consequences, and other countries have been hesitant to accept their results.
AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer are notable companies reaching the final, most critical testing stages that involve thousands of human participants. In partnership with the University of Oxford, the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca recently brought their testing to a halt on Sept. 6 because of complications. After the second dose of the vaccine, a participant developed a neurological condition that caused severe spinal inflammation. Scientists are concerned with the lack of transparency AstraZeneca has provided, and it has not been determined when the company will resume working on their vaccine.
Pfizer, headquartered in New York City, is working with BioNTech and Fosun Pharma to produce an mRNA vaccine and has recently expanded its trial to 44,000 participants. Pfizer claims that their current trial will end by October, and if it yields positive results, they will move into the approval stage. This is currently the most encouraging vaccine timeline.
Moderna was an unexpected recipient of more than $1 billion of government funding. The American company has never produced an effective vaccine to date. Although their experience working with mRNA made them an attractive contender. An mRNA vaccine is the favored approach, given the ease at which they can be mass-produced. Moderna has been working with mRNA since its beginnings, and the original name of the company was ModeRNA. However, currently, there are no FDA approved drugs for humans that use mRNA despite some promising results.
There is some disconnect between politicians and scientists about when a vaccine will be approved and how it will be distributed. Donald Trump has made claims that a vaccine will be available before the election in November to anyone who wants it. There is hesitation in believing these claims since they are likely made in an attempt to boost his approval ratings surrounding his handling of the pandemic.
Similarly, scientists have stated that vaccine approval does not necessarily mean equal access to the public. There is mention of allowing essential workers first access, but this does not acknowledge how countries who have not funded any research will receive it.
On Sept. 16, CDC director Robert Redfield contradicted Trump’s hopeful vaccine promises stating that it is likely a vaccine will not be available until mid-2021. In the meantime, he suggests that wearing a mask is the most effective way to avoid infection. The COVID-19 vaccine will likely beat the four-year vaccine record, but the specifics of that are still relatively uncertain.