There’s a great deal of public discussion regarding potential time-lines for the introduction of a vaccine for coronavirus. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, several pharmaceutical manufacturers and teams of researchers have already started working on potential vaccines for this novel coronavirus.
What goes into the creation of a vaccine? Let’s take a look at how vaccines are manufactured and when we might expect a solution to this current crisis.
Common Types of Vaccines
The essential function of a vaccine is to teach your body how to fight an illness by introducing an aspect of that illness to your immune system so that it can develop antibodies. The way researchers accomplish this varies and depends on what type of illness they are trying to prevent, who will need the vaccine and how accessible the technology is that is necessary to develop and deliver the vaccine.
Attenuated, or weakened, forms of live germs that lead to diseases like COVID-19 are given to a person in small doses so that their body can create antibodies. The amount of live germ in a vaccine is not enough to cause sickness from the disease, and receiving the full, prescribed amount of vaccine should prevent contraction of the disease in the future. This type of vaccine is considered potent and long-lasting in most cases, but because they must be stored in cool temperatures, they are not considered a viable option for use in circumstances where refrigeration may be limited or non-existent.
Examples of diseases prevented by live-attenuated vaccines include MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), smallpox, and chicken pox.
Inactivated vaccines do not use live germs. Instead, the germ is dead, making the immune response from the body weaker. This means you may need to receive several doses of the vaccine over a prescribed period of time that may be days, months or years.
Examples of diseases prevented by inactivated vaccines include hepatitis A, influenza shot, polio shot, and rabies.
It may not be possible to create a vaccine that generates an immune response to the disease a germ causes. When this occurs, scientists instead attempt to create an immune response to a harmful product within the germ itself so that the body can attack that and, by extension, the entire germ.
Examples of diseases prevented by toxoid vaccines include diphtheria and tetanus.
Other vaccine types
Much like a toxoid vaccine, other vaccine types try to create an immune response that is based on singular or multiple aspects of a germ rather than the germ as a whole. Depending on which aspect of a germ the vaccine uses to develop an immune response, these vaccines may be called subunit, polysaccharide, conjugate or recombinant vaccines.
Examples of diseases prevented by other vaccine types include whooping cough, HPV (Human papillomavirus), and shingles.
Some vaccines are potent enough to last a lifetime, others may need additional, or booster, shots at certain intervals throughout a person’s life.
Expected COVID-19 Vaccine Timeline
Fast-tracking a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is easier said than done. Several public and private organizations are involved in the process of testing and manufacturing viable therapeutics and potential vaccines for the virus. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the agency in charge of managing relationships between these public and private entities in the United States, created a framework for collaboration that studies both naturally-occurring immunity to COVID-19 and immune responses induced by potential vaccines.
According to the NIH, the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) and other leading health experts and organizations, a safe and effective vaccine can take up to a year or more to develop. There may be one or more types of vaccines available once they are approved for use by the general public. While potential vaccines are developed, the CDC advises that comprehensive testing and treatment protocols, appropriate social distancing measures and strong sterilization standards help reduce the number of infected individuals and control the COVID-19 outbreak.