Coronavirus vaccine: when will it be ready? | News from the world

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EComing to their most effective – and draconian – containment strategies have only slowed the spread of Covid-19 respiratory disease. With the World Health Organization finally declaring a pandemic, all eyes have turned to the prospect of a vaccine, because only a vaccine can keep people from getting sick.

About 35 companies and academic institutions are rushing to create such a vaccine, at least four of which already have candidates they have tested on animals. The first of these – produced by the Boston-based biotechnology company Moderna – will soon enter human trials.

This unprecedented speed is largely due to early Chinese efforts to sequence the genetic material of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. China shared the footage in early January, allowing research groups around the world to develop the living virus and study how it invades human cells and makes people sick.

But there is another reason in advance. Although no one could have predicted that the next infectious disease that would threaten the world would be caused by a coronavirus – influenza is generally considered to pose the greatest risk of pandemic – the vaccinologists had covered their bets by working on “prototypes” pathogens. “The speed at which we have [produced these candidates] relies heavily on investment to understand how to develop vaccines for other coronaviruses, ”said Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Oslo-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), which is leading efforts to fund and coordinate the Covid-19 vaccine. development.

Coronavirus: the week explained - our expert correspondents put into context the developments of a week

Once the Covid-19 vaccine is approved, a new set of challenges will arise. "Getting a vaccine that has been proven to be safe and effective in humans takes at best about a third of the way required for a global immunization program," said global health expert Jonathan Quick of Duke University in North Carolina, author of The end of epidemics (2018). "Viral biology and vaccine technology may be the limiting factors, but politics and economics are much more likely to be the barrier to vaccination."

The problem is to make sure that the vaccine gets to everyone who needs it. It is a challenge even within countries, and some have developed guidelines. In the scenario of an influenza pandemic, for example, the United Kingdom would prioritize the vaccination of health and social service workers, as well as those considered to be the most exposed to medical risk - including children and pregnant women - with the general aim of keeping sickness and death rates as low as possible. But in the event of a pandemic, countries also have to compete for drugs.




President Xi Jinping visits the Beijing Academy of Military Medical Sciences.

President Xi Jinping visits the Beijing Academy of Military Medical Sciences. Photography: Ju Peng / AP

Because pandemics tend to hit countries with the most fragile and least funded health systems hardest, there is an inherent imbalance between vaccine needs and purchasing power. During the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, for example, vaccine supplies were cut by countries that could afford it, leaving the poorest to run out. But you can also imagine a scenario in which, say, India - a major supplier of vaccines to the developing world - decides not without reason to use its vaccine production to protect its own population of 1.3 billion inhabitants before exporting.

Outside pandemics, WHO is bringing governments, charitable foundations and vaccine manufacturers together to agree on a strategy for equitable global distribution, and organizations like Gavi, the vaccine alliance, have developed mechanisms for innovative financing to raise funds on the markets to ensure the supply of the poorest countries. But every pandemic is different, and no country is bound by an arrangement proposed by the WHO - leaving many unknown. As Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, points out, “The question is, what will happen in a situation where you have national emergencies? "

It is debated, but it will take some time to see how it will unfold. The pandemic, says Wilder-Smith, "will likely have peaked and waned before a vaccine is available." A vaccine could still save many lives, especially if the virus becomes endemic or in perpetual circulation - like the flu - and there are other epidemics, possibly seasonal. But until then, our best hope is to contain the disease as much as possible. To repeat the sage advice: wash your hands.

This article was modified on March 19, 2020. An earlier version incorrectly stated that the Sabin Vaccine Institute was collaborating with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) on a Covid-19 vaccine.

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