Coronavirus Vaccine: When Will We Have One?
There are around 40 different coronavirus vaccines in clinical trials – including one being developed by the University of Oxford that is already in an advanced stage of testing. The virus spreads easily, and the majority of the world’s population is still vulnerable to it. A vaccine would provide some protection by training people’s immune systems to fight the virus so they should not become sick. This would allow lockdowns to be lifted more safely, and social distancing to be relaxed.
Research is happening at breakneck speed. About 240 vaccines are in early development, with 40 in clinical trials and nine already in the final stage of testing on thousands of people. Trials of the Oxford vaccine show it can trigger an immune response, and a deal has been signed with AstraZeneca to supply 100 million doses in the UK alone. The first human trial data back in May indicated the first eight patients taking part in a US study all produced antibodies that could neutralise the virus. A group in China showed a vaccine was safe and led to protective antibodies being made. It is being made available to the Chinese military.
Other completely new approaches to vaccine development are in human trials. However, no-one knows how effective any of these vaccines will be. A vaccine would normally take years, if not decades, to develop. Researchers hope to achieve the same amount of work in only a few months. Most experts think a vaccine is likely to become widely available by mid-2021, about 12-18 months after the new virus, known officially as Sars-CoV-2, first emerged. That would be a huge scientific feat, and there are no guarantees it will work. But scientists are optimistic that, if trials are successful, then a small number of people – such as healthcare workers – may be vaccinated before the end of this year. It is worth noting that four coronaviruses already circulate in human beings. They cause common cold symptoms and we don’t have vaccines for any of them.