Dozens of companies worldwide are swiftly developing COVID-19 vaccines, with trillions of dollars and the health of the planet at stake. Here’s what you need to know:
How’s it going?
Roughly 2o vaccines are currently in human trials, eight of those in China. Experts warn that the one-year timeline touted by companies and the Trump administration may not be feasible: Vaccines typically take years to develop and frequently fail human trials. Ignore Phase I and Phase II trial excitement—you don’t find out whether a vaccine works on lots of humans until Phase III.
What vaccines are in development?
Companies are developing a few different vaccine technologies: Novavax and Sanofi are both creating vaccines that work by inserting a viral protein (the antigen) into the body, to provoke an immune response. Moderna and German companies CureVac and BioNTech are using mRNA from COVID-19 to stimulate an immune response—a strategy that has never been used before in a regulated vaccine. Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are both delivering coronavirus protection via a benign virus. Moderna, which has not previously brought a successful drug to market, is currently leading the race to large-scale testing in the United States—it’s set to begin Phase 3 testing with 30,000 participants this month.
Will vaccines work?
Excellent question! Likely not as well as we would like them to. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says it’s unlikely that a vaccine will confer longterm immunity. “We’re going to assume that there’s a degree of protection, but we have to assume that it’s going to be finite.” Translation: Booster shots will likely be required.
Which vaccine will work?
More than one needs to work, because no company has the capacity to swiftly vaccinate everyone, plus boosters. It remains to be seen how most humans on the planet will access a vaccine.
What the heck is Operation Warp Speed?
That’s the Trump administration’s well-funded, multiagency effort to make a vaccine available as soon as possible. In a Senate subcommittee hearing last week, officials refused to disclose which vaccines are front-runners, nor did they say how they are chosen. Moncef Slaoui, the head of Operation Warp Speed, is a 30-year veteran of GlaxoSmithKline, where he was involved in public deception over the health risks of a blockbuster diabetes drug, Avandia.
Does Operation Warp Speed give funding?
Oh yes. Today, Novavax, which has never brought a successful medical product to market, announced that it received $1.6 billion in funding to speed the development of 100 million doses of vaccine. British company AstraZeneca was awarded $1.2 billion in May. Other companies, including Sanofi, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna Therapeutics have also received funding.