Singapore—Scientists are racing to develop a viable vaccine for the coronavirus now present in 177 countries all over the world and which has caused the economy to grind to a halt in many places, shuttering millions of people in their homes to prevent the spread of infections.
It is widely believed that only a vaccine will restore life to the way we knew it before Covid-19 made an appearance on our shores, as only the immunity that a vaccine provides can guarantee that people can go back to their everyday activities.
In the United States, the race to find a vaccine is codenamed Operation Warp Speed and is an effort wherein the government, military, and pharmaceutical firms are collaborating.
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on May 6 that there are currently “108 potential Covid-19 vaccines are in development around the world,” per documents that were posted to its site.
And while different nations, organizations, and companies have pledged €7.4 billion (S$11.3 billion) to the European Commission-spearheaded Coronavirus Global Response to develop coronavirus vaccines and treatments, the WHO appealed on Tuesday (May 12) for additional funding in order to boost the progress of the seven to eight “top” vaccine candidates, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s Director-General.
Here’s a look at four top vaccine candidates.
- Pfizer/BioNTech (US/Germany)—Pfizer launched a phase I/II clinical trial for one of its Covid-19 vaccines on May 7, as the company is currently testing four distinct vaccines. Pfizer’s goal is to produce millions of doses within the year. The company’s first volunteers were given a dose of the vaccine early in May in Germany, while in the US, over 350 adults will take part in its clinical trials. Litjen (L.J.) Tan, PhD, chief strategy officer for the Immunization Action Coalition, said, “I would say in about 2 months, they will know immediately if the vaccine is safe and if the vaccine stimulates the immune response.”
- Moderna (US)—The American biotechnology firm Moderna was among the first companies to start clinical trials on a potential coronavirus vaccine on humans, which it began in March. It was recently given the go signal from the US Food and Drug administration to start its next testing phase. Phase 1 was to determine the dosage and safety of the vaccine, and this new phase is being carried out to see its efficacy and side effects on around 600 people. The company aims to start phase 3 in the summer, testing the vaccine on hundreds to thousands of people, and when this phase is done, the FDA will determine whether or not to approve the vaccine. Moderna is already in partnership with Lonza, a Swiss pharmaceutical company to manufacture as many as 1 billion doses yearly, with the first doses expected to be made available in the US.
- Oxford University (UK)—In three months from the beginning of the outbreak, scientists at Oxford University were able to develop a potential vaccine they are calling ‘ChAdOx1 nCoV-19.’ The team that developed the vaccine said they expect to test it on 6,000 people by the end of this month, and if it is proven to be effective and safe, they’ll make millions of doses by the third quarter of this year, partnering with AstraZeneca, a British pharmaceutical firm, for manufacturing. The university announced earlier it will not receive royalties for the vaccine while the pandemic is ongoing.
- Sinovac Biotech (China)— Based in Beijing, Sinovac Biotech is one of three Chinese companies that have advanced in the development of a coronavirus vaccine and is now in negotiations to hold late-stage trials in different parts of the world where Covid-19 is spreading quickly. CEO Yin Weidong said last week, “To evaluate whether the vaccine can give protection, we need to study the relation between disease incidence and vaccination. You can’t do that when there’s no cases.”
On a more sober note, however, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the UK, said that although he has been “hearing positive noises coming from Oxford, but this (vaccine) is not guaranteed,” adding that after “18 years we don’t have a vaccine for SARS.”
His chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, echoed this, saying, “You can never guarantee a vaccine – it is tough.”
Mr Johnson also said on Monday (May 11) that the world may be living with the virus “for a long time to come.” —/TISG