COVID-19 vaccine at least a year away, say scientists


New Delhi: Vaccine design is still an empirical, trial and error process and a preventive against COVID-19 could be at least a year away, say scientists as information on developments in therapeutics to combat the infection flows in a steady trickle from across the world.

While quelling the buzz of a quick breakthrough, the scientists also hold out hope that the process might be cut short by a few months if testing approvals and scale-ups in manufacturing happen simultaneously.

According to the World Health Organisation, 10 candidate vaccines for COVID-19 are in the clinical evaluation and 126 are in the pre-clinical stage.

Pre-clinical development is a stage of research during which important feasibility, iterative testing and drug safety data are collected, while clinical trials are research studies performed on people.

There are different broad strategies by which SARS-CoV-2 vaccines are being developed the world over, explained immunologist Satyajit Rath.

While all are well-known strategies — some almost two centuries old and some almost two decades old — none are ‘guaranteed’ to yield a usable vaccine, the scientist from the National Institute of Immunology (NII) in New Delhi told PTI.

Vaccine design still remains mostly an empirical, trial and error process, rather than an innovative knowledge-driven one. This is why, while any of these approaches is being put through trial and error, it remains a ‘vaccine candidate’ rather than a ‘vaccine’, he added.

According to Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland in the US, What’s being confused — and scientists and politicians are contributing to the confusion — is the difference between a candidate and a vaccine.”

He was speaking at a virtual meeting earlier this month when scientists at the University of California (UC) Davis and from other institutes in the US gathered to lay out a full picture of the complexities of developing and distributing a COVID-19 vaccine — which they generally agreed won’t happen until some time in 2021.

“We are not expected to return to a fully normal life until a vaccine is developed. But how long will that take? UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May asked in the meeting.

About a year, maybe more, was the consensus.

In India, where the number of COVID-19 cases on Tuesday rose to 3,43,091 and the death toll to 9,900, scientists agreed with their counterparts abroad

With at least six Indian companies working on a vaccine for COVID-19 and the Serum Institute of India last week announcing a deal with the company Astra Zeneca to supply one billion doses of vaccine for low and middle-income countries to combat the coronavirus, the buzz has been growing louder.

“We finally have a deal signed with @AstraZeneca, to exclusively manufacture their product for India and @gavi countries, up to a billion doses annually. This will ensure supply and access to all Indians,” Adar Poonawala, the CEO of the Serum Institute, tweeted on June 13.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged USD 15 million as India’s contribution to the vaccines alliance GAVI at the Global Vaccine Summit hosted by the UK. PTI