How Long Would It Take For COVID-19 Vaccine To Be Ready?- DoctorOnCall

Answered by: Dr Mohd Ramzdhan Bin Mohd Masdar
Updated on: May 1, 2020

Question:
Hi doctor. I’m a husband and a father of two little girls. I always bring my girls to take vaccination but honestly, I’m not aware of it’s function and what it does to the body. But I know it is important and it is beneficial to the body. However, I’ve been reading a lot regarding coronavirus recently and came across news about a vaccine against coronavirus. I’m not sure if the news is valid but I'm sure this would be a weapon against coronavirus. So, my question is, what is the function of vaccines? And is the news about the vaccine for coronavirus real and if it is, when would we get it?
Answer:
Hi there. Thank you for your question. So first, let me explain the function of vaccines in general. It is made up of either from a weakened virus, part of it or the protein from the virus that cause the disease. It is then injected into the body to evoke the immune system against the intruder. Since it is just a weak virus or not the whole virus, it would be easier for the body to fight against it. Once the immune system wins the battle, they would keep a memory about the virus. So, next time it comes to intrude, the body is well prepared. Your next question is very interesting. I’m sure there are a lot of people who had the same question as you because there had been news about this vaccine. I’ll talk more about this topic down here. Let’s read.

If you have no intention to read more and just want to know the answer, they wouldn’t be ready any soon. It might take another 12-18 months.

Since you’ve been reading news about coronavirus, I bet you have heard the news that this vaccine can be ready earlier than that. To explain the conflict between these two facts, it actually depends on what kind of vaccine and its purpose that the news is addressing. 

If they meant a vaccine that is ready and safe to be used worldwide like the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine that was given to all newborns in Malaysia, it would take 12-18 months more. It is indeed a long wait especially as we're now in a rush and desperate to solve this pandemic as soon as possible before more casualty occurs. However, if we’re looking back in history, previously it took us 10-12 years before a vaccine can be produced. Let’s take the BCG vaccine for an example. It took us 13 years to get it. If we really need to compare it, 12-18 months is actually not that long of a wait.

Wondering why? This is because there are several phases to get through the process of making a vaccine. First of all is the pre-clinical phase. This is when the vaccine is developed in the lab and tests on animals are conducted. Only when the vaccine is proven to be safe and are showing positive results in developing an immunity against the virus, then it would enter the clinical phase where we start to conduct the test on humans. 

Clinical phase is divided into 3 phases. Each phase would involve more people and takes more time compared to the previous phase. 

Phase 1 tests are done on healthy individuals. The purpose of this phase is to make sure that the vaccine is safe and to rule out any debilitating side effects. Then, the next 2 phases are to test the effectiveness of the vaccine. During this phase, vaccines would be distributed to those highly affected areas. As the result of the final two phases, the need for the vaccine would slowly increase. To cater the increasing demand for the vaccine, regulatory agencies would need to judge and assess when the licence should be given. Only when the license is granted, factories that are capable of producing the vaccine can produce it in bulk to be distributed. After the vaccine is out and given to people, surveillance would still be continued on the vaccine to make sure it is safe.

Nevertheless, the news saying that the vaccine against the coronavirus is ready was partially true. We did have the vaccine that already passed through the pre-clinical phase and now ready to enter the clinical phase. There is also a vaccine that already exists and was previously used for other viruses, and is now being repurpose to treat this particular coronavirus. But all of them are now still in the clinical phase. As conclusion, the vaccine is ready but for it to be readily launched in a short time is actually far-fetched. 

However, there are many approaches suggested by companies developing the vaccine as well as from the World Health Organization (WHO) to speed up the process. One of them is to conduct tests in different phases parallelly. There’s also a company that already started their mass production of vaccines despite the vaccine is still on test. This is because mass production is critical in a pandemic. Besides, WHO also suggests that phase 2 and 3 would test a number of candidates simultaneously, in multi-country trials according to standardised criteria.

There’s still a lot of gap in our knowledge regarding coronavirus. This includes how long the vaccine would be able to protect us against the virus. There’s a few anecdotal reports that re-infection occurs after a patient has recovered from the infection. This raises a question whether we can be infected again because it is an alarming sign if our immunity can’t protect us from getting infected by this virus again. It would then defeat the purpose of the vaccine which was there in the first place to develop an immunity against this virus.




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