COVID-19 vaccine timeframe likely to be longer than 12 months

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, developing a vaccine for the disease becomes a pressing manner, but a reasonable time frame for accomplishing a working vaccine may be longer than 12 months. Considering vaccines typically take years to develop, expectations surrounding the timeframe for a vaccine should be tempered. As COVID-19 therapeutics could be available in a matter of months, expecting similar results for COVID-19 vaccines is likely to be unrealistic for multiple reasons, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

GlobalData’s Pharmaceutical Technology website asked 1,561 readers, ‘How confident are you that Pharma/Biotech Companies will be able to develop an effective vaccine for COVID-19 within the next 12 months?’, and a strong majority (80%) were optimistic about the development of a vaccine, with 52% being very confident, 28% somewhat confident, while only 20% expressed no confidence at all.

Vaccines work by training the immune system to respond to components of pathogens and accordingly must be highly specific to the pathogen of interest. As the virus responsible for COVID-19 is new, its components are poorly understood, making it difficult to decide which parts might be more immunogenic and thus likely to lead to a successful vaccine.

Michael Breen, PhD, Associate Director of Infectious Diseases at GlobalData, said: “While several vaccines have entered the clinic, the amount of time dedicated to research and development of these candidates is substantially shorter than any vaccine which has entered clinical trials. Part of the reason these vaccines were able to enter Phase I studies so quickly is because they rely on new vaccine technologies, which can be developed rapidly, relative to older technologies.

“However, no vaccine using these technologies has ever been commercialized and data supporting their efficacy is thin, thus enthusiasm surrounding their likelihood of success may be met with disappointment.”

Additionally, once a vaccine is determined to be effective, there is the manufacturing and distribution of the vaccine to contend with. These could cause delays and increase the time to availability of the vaccine. 

Breen elaborates: “The availability of a vaccine will likely depend heavily on the geography where it is developed, and who is recommended to receive it upon licensure. For example, a COVID-19 developed in the US might initially be recommended for older patients in the US who are at increased risk, while younger patients and those in other regions could be relegated to later lines upon release of the vaccine.

“Ultimately, while it is technically possible for a COVID-19 vaccine to be available in 12 months, several factors portend this to be closer to wishful thinking than anything remotely certain.”

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