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3 Key Factors Pushing an Early Coronavirus Vaccine Breakthrough

Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:53 PM
Joseph Young
Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:53 PM
  • Coronavirus vaccines can be produced before the projected 18 months, scientists say.
  • In the U.K., Oxford researchers injecting the first vaccines in humans said a vaccine could come by September.
  • The U.K., South Korea, China, the U.S., Switzerland, and Germany are prioritizing vaccine testing.

The expectations for a coronavirus vaccine has waned in the past several weeks, following Dr. Anthony Fauci’s firm statement that it is unlikely to arrive in the next 12 to 18 months . But, three key factors indicate that there is a possibility vaccines can be produced sooner than projected.

The three factors that could push for faster vaccine production are: Germany’s approval of human testing, at least five major countries prioritizing the creation of vaccines, and several major conglomerates exploring alternative coronavirus vaccine types.

Europe leads in coronavirus vaccine testing

On April 23, the government of Germany officially approved human testing of a coronavirus vaccine developed by a local biotech company called BioNTech.

According to German vaccines regulator the Paul Ehrlich Institut, the testing of coronavirus vaccine will be conducted on 200 healthy individuals.

coronavirus vaccine germany
German coronavirus vaccines enter human testing phase | Source: DW 

When the vaccine enters a human body, it leads cells to generate antigen proteins. The proteins then protect the body against coronavirus particles as the immune system develops a countermeasure.

Whether the vaccines would work on the majority of people and not show major side effects for children are two unknown variables. A study released by the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics  in 2014 found that side effects of childhood vaccines are rare.

If vaccines generally have a low probability of triggering major side effects  on children, it would pave a safer path forward for coronavirus vaccine production.

Major countries are starting to test vaccines

Hong Kong, the U.S., the U.K., China, Switzerland, South Korea, and Germany are at the forefront of coronavirus vaccine testing as governments prepare for the next step in overcoming the pandemic.

Researchers at several prestigious universities in Hong Kong identified coronavirus vaccine targets by as early as mid-February.

On February 27, a team of scientists at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) said that a vaccine modeled after SARS epitopes could be successful.

Matthew McKay, professor at Departments of Electronic & Computer Engineering and Chemical & Biological Engineering, said  at the time:

While an effective SARS vaccine was never formally released, a lot of experiments had been done to identify SARS epitopes that can induce an immune response in humans.

Scientists at Hong Kong’s HKUST researching coronavirus vaccines | Source: HKUST

China also approved human testing of two coronavirus vaccines  on April 14, speeding up the process of finding vaccines as new cases plateau.

coronavirus vaccine china
China CDC says coronavirus vaccine may be ready by September | Source: CGTN 

In the U.K., the first two volunteer patients of coronavirus were injected with a coronavirus vaccine on Thursday. More than 800 individuals have been recruited so far  to aid the study of vaccines.

Based on the progress, Oxford University vaccine development team head Sarah Gilbert said that coronavirus vaccines can be ready by September  in a best-case scenario.

Alternative vaccines being explored

In the first week of April, cigarette manufacturer British American Tobacco said its subsidiary Kentucky BioProcessing is using tobacco plant technology to run clinical coronavirus vaccine tests  on animals.

The company’s director of scientific research David O’Reilly said that he believes BAT has made a “significant breakthrough” in vaccine development. He emphasized that it is in the process of securing partnerships with government agencies for human testing.

Swiss pharma giants are also focusing on the development of alternative coronavirus vaccines.

coronavirus bill gates
Bill Gates says vaccines are the way to end coronavirus pandemic | Source: MSNBC 

But, some high-profile pharma executives remain skeptical  on the optimistic projections of vaccines.

In a call, Roche CEO Severin Schwan said that even 12 to 18 months for a coronavirus vaccine is an ambitious timeline.