It’s the holy grail jab that the world is waiting for. But just how long will it take to produce a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine which can be licensed for global use?
There are two races going on at the same time. One is among pharmaceutical companies to produce the first vaccine, and the other is to have a jab that will outrun the spread of the virus.
Until a workable and safe vaccine is produced, licensed and supplied in sufficient quantities, Ireland could see phases, lasting the rest of 2020, when emergency restrictions of one kind or another are relaxed and reintroduced.
It will depend on factors such as whether the virus is falling or rising.
Professor Luke O’Neill, of the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, said yesterday that realistically it will take 18 months to get a vaccine, although some companies believe it can be done in a year.
The good news is 41 potential vaccines are in development, with five currently being tested on humans.
Johnson & Johnson is putting up $500m (€457m), which has been matched by the United States government, and has a candidate vaccine which the company says will be free, said Prof O’Neill.
Human trials are expected to begin in September so it would be next year before it was available if it proved successful.
But, depending on the results, it can be expected that regulatory authorities across the world, including the European Medicines Authority overseeing licensing here, would be anxious to fast-track it.
However, other companies hold out the hope their vaccine might be ready earlier.
The leader there is the biotech company Moderna which has started testing its product on humans.
The volunteers have received the jab at the Kaiser Permanente research facility in Seattle, Washington.
The aim at this point is to monitor the vaccines to make sure that they show no serious side effects. This will pave the way for larger tests.
Moderna’s vaccine aims to stimulate the immune system to make similar proteins to the killer virus, which it can then combat.
China has also started a phase-one clinical trial of a vaccine against coronavirus. The trial is designed to enrol 108 volunteers aged 18-60 who are residents of Wuhan, the city where the virus originated.
The experimental candidate is a recombination vaccine developed by biotechnology company CanSino Biologics in alliance with a research team from the PLA Academy of Military Medical Sciences.
It is thanks to China that the development of these vaccines has been speeded up.
It made early attempts to sequence the genetic material of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and this allowed scientists around the globe to grow the live virus, examining how it impacts on the person who is infected.
Once a vaccine is passed there will be competition among countries to secure as much supply as possible.
The likelihood is that it would need to be first prioritised for the most at-risk groups.
But that hurdle can be crossed when it finally arrives.
FINANCE Minister Paschal Donohoe has said it is “very possible” Ireland will access the new European Union Covid-19 rescue package, but is confident Ireland will recover from the economic impact the pandemic has had.
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