Since South Africa’s current state of lockdown was extended by a further two weeks, as announced on Thursday, 9 April 2020, people have been wondering how far we are from getting a vaccine.
While there are daily reports of “promising” developments and discoveries, the hard truth is that before a vaccination can be made available it needs to be subjected to rigorous tests and trials, which can take months or even years.
For those who don't have the time or inclination to browse through numerous studies and reports, here's what is happening regarding a Covid-19 vaccine:
Blueprint document published
So far, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that at least 70 possible candidates for vaccines – of which three are in clinical evaluation and 67 in preclinical evaluation.
The WHO published a comprehensive blueprint document on 11 April 2020, tabling the various companies racing towards an approved vaccine.
Several drug manufacturers, big and small, started the process of working towards the first vaccine. While lockdown measures around the globe are imposed to help flatten the curve of new infections, it is not nearly enough to curtail the spread of Covid-19.
Among the listed companies are the Chinese biotech company CanSino and US biotech start-ups Inovio Pharmaceuticals and Moderna.
Larger companies working hard towards a vaccine are Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi and Pfizer.
Long road towards vaccine
Developing a vaccine is usually a lengthy process, which can take several years. In the case of Covid-19, these companies are hoping to cut down the normal timelines and to fast-track a vaccine.
It usually works like this: first a vaccine is tested in a lab, then in animals, and then in a small group of people. Then, when that is proven safe, the vaccine is moved to a larger clinical trial.
While a Covid-19 vaccine could reportedly be developed within 12 to 18 months, some experts believe that this deadline is too optimistic as an expedited process might cut out vital steps.
Paul Offit, co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine in the late 1990s, told CNN that the announcement by Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that a vaccine may be developed within 12 to 18 was “ridiculously optimistic”.
What should we do in the meantime?
According to him, an exponential rise in infections can still be expected, and a lockdown was important as a proactive measure to delay infections.