How can we safely speed up making a vaccine?

A vaccine often takes a long time to develop. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are trying to create one in record time. You might be wondering how we’re able to speed up a process that normally takes years. And will a vaccine that is produced this fast be safe?

The typical process for making a vaccine requires three phases of research. First they need to be tested in animals (Phase I), then a small group of humans (Phase II), then a larger group of humans (Phase III/IV). We’re speeding up the process in three major ways. But vaccine experts aren’t taking shortcuts when it comes to safety.

Lots of potential vaccines 

Usually, one or two research groups work on developing a vaccine for a particular disease. They might try a few different potential vaccines over time before finding one that works. But everyone is pitching in when it comes to the novel coronavirus. There are more than 160 candidate vaccines being worked on at once. This gives us a lot of chances to find one that works right away!

Rapid recruitment of study subjects

Normally it’s hard to find people who are able and willing to participate in vaccine trials. But not in this pandemic. To be eligible, people must not have been exposed to the infection before the trial. That might be tough if a virus is already common and most people have been exposed. But everyone is susceptible to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. And lots of people are motivated to help find a solution. So recruitment has been moving along quickly.

Early preparation for vaccine production

The other big roadblock to vaccine development is gearing up production. It takes a long time and a lot of money to produce the vaccine itself. We also need things like specialized vials and syringes in order to deliver it. Usually, we do not invest in producing a vaccine until we’re already convinced it’s going to work. But this time it’s different. Many governments, foundations, and companies are investing in the factories and resources needed to make a lot of vaccines right now. While most of these facilities will never be used, the ones needed for the vaccine that works will be ready to go. 

Monitoring by experts

Scientists who specialize in vaccine development know that safety is number one. They will continue to monitor the progress and keep everyone informed.


Last update: July 31, 2020, 4:37 pm ET

Science review: ERS, GSN, JAB