When will the coronavirus vaccine be ready? Everything we know right now

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Experts hope that a vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus will be available as soon as possible.

James Martin / CNET

For the latest news and information on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Doctors and scientists are scrambling to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus, which is responsible for more than 250,000 deaths worldwide today. It is estimated that the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to ravage society until between 60% and 70% of the world’s population is immune.

There are currently more than 95 coronavirus vaccines under test, seven of which have already been tested in clinical trials, which means there are more scientists working harder and faster to find a vaccine than ever before in the history of pandemics. But even if one of the vaccines under development proves to be effective, the FDA approval process usually takes a year or more.

It’s still too early to predict, but here’s what we know so far about the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine that could help end the current pandemic.

One more note before we start. This article is intended to be a resource to help you understand current research on coronavirus vaccines. It is not intended to serve as medical advice. If you’re looking for more information on coronavirus testing, here’s how to find a test site near you (and here another way for Apple Maps users). Here is how to find out if you qualify for a test and why there are no home test kits for coronaviruses again. This story is updated frequently as new information becomes available.

Read more: What it will take for life to return to normal after the lockout ends

Vaccines 101: what is it, how does it work and how long to make one?

A vaccine is a medical treatment that protects you from a disease like coronavirus. For a more in-depth look at how vaccines work, see this in-depth coronavirus treatment explicator by CNET science editor Jackson Ryan. But the short and sweet is that a vaccine tricks your body into thinking that it has already had the disease, so your body’s natural defense – the immune system – builds antibodies against it. Then, if you become infected, your body would use antibodies to fight the virus before you feel sick.

Vaccines usually take 10 to 15 years to develop. This is partly because any new medical treatment must be thoroughly tested for safety before it can be delivered to millions or billions of people. The mumps vaccine took four years, which is widely regarded as the fastest vaccine approval in the history of infectious disease.


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The current coronavirus vaccine landscape

Last week, the White House announced “Operation Warp Speed,” a sort of coronavirus vaccine task force that has identified 14 vaccine projects that it believes will focus on acceleration. The stated objective of the project is to have 300 million doses of vaccine by January 2021. This is a little faster than the estimated time of 12 to 18 months proposed by the best American expert in infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

At the time of writing, 97 vaccine projects were underway in countries around the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and China. Twelve are already undergoing clinical trials or are starting in the coming months. Of these 12, the University of Oxford appears to be leading the pack with a vaccine that researchers say may be ready by fall 2020.

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Scientists around the world are working on a vaccine. To date, 12 projects have started or will soon begin clinical trials.

Angela Lang / CNET

How likely is it to find a vaccine?

Not great. Only around 6% of vaccine candidates reach the market, not just because they don’t work. There is a whole litany of problems that could even cancel a promising candidate. Take, for example, what happened when scientists tried to develop a SARS vaccine – it backfired and actually made people more susceptible to the disease. The same thing happened with a dengue vaccine. To make matters worse, coronaviruses are a large class of viruses and so far there is no vaccine for any of them.

However, this particular coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has unique characteristics that may help researchers working on a vaccine. For example, some viruses, like the flu, mutate quickly and often, which is why there is a new flu vaccine every year. This coronavirus doesn’t seem to do that. Although it is still too early to be completely sure what will happen by the time a vaccine is ready, it is believed that the virus has not yet mutated enough to disrupt the development of the vaccine, nor should it most do it.

What steps must a vaccine take to be approved?

Rules and regulations vary by country, but generally most industrialized countries have similar protocols for approving a vaccine. The next way is to find out how the vaccines are approved in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration:

  • Before clinical trials can begin: Once a laboratory has researched and developed a potential vaccine, which includes testing it in animal models and developing manufacturing and quality control processes, it can apply to the FDA to begin clinical trials.
  • Phase 1 clinical trials: The safety and efficacy of the vaccine are being tested in a small number (dozens) of closely monitored subjects.
  • Phase 2 clinical trials: Various dosages of the vaccine are being tested on hundreds of human subjects.
  • Phase 3 clinical trials: Thousands of subjects are enrolled to measure the overall effectiveness of the vaccine.
  • If a vaccine passes all three phases: The laboratory must then apply to the FDA for a license to produce and distribute the vaccine. This application is being reviewed by FDA and non-FDA scientists.
  • If approved: The laboratory begins producing the vaccine while the FDA closely monitors production.
  • Phase 4: Although at this point the vaccine may be on the market, many vaccines continue with so-called phase 4 studies, in which the FDA continues to review the safety and efficacy of the vaccine .
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Until there is a vaccine, expect safety precautions like face masks and social isolation to be part of everyday life.

Robert Rodriguez / CNET

What happens if we never find a coronavirus vaccine?

The longer we stay without a vaccine, the more attention we are likely to focus on treatments, such as remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug that has shown promising results. Many viruses that used to be dead are no longer death sentences. HIV-positive patients, for example, can now expect to have the same life expectancy as non-HIV-positive people, thanks to considerable advances in treatment.

Without a coronavirus vaccine, returning to normal may be more difficult and longer, but not necessarily impossible. Coronavirus test, including antibody test, and contact tracking efforts should probably be intensified. Lockout measures probably get up slowly, although depending on how people manage it cities and states can bring them back, including requiring face masks and social distancing. Ultimately, the world’s population could reach the rate of 60% to 70% required for collective immunity to protect those who are not immune.

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