What is the process of vaccine development and how much time does it take?

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A little history and current scenario for you first:-

Did you know that the first vaccine ever developed was by Edward Jenner in 1790s against smallpox; for which complete eradication was declared by World Health Assembly in 1979. Eradication meant the permanent reduction to zero new cases worldwide in contrast to elimination which is limited to a defined geographical area.

Fast forward to 21st century, the spread of Covid-19 has necessitated the development of a new vaccine. The biggest challenge is to develop a safe vaccine in minimal time.

History of vaccine development

Majority of scientists are of the view that it will take around 12 to 18 months for a Covid-19 vaccine to develop. Contrary to the norm, Covid-19 test could be available so early was primarily because of two reasons

    1. A huge body of research had already been done on coronaviruses, given the similar outbreaks in past like SARS and MERS.
    1. China provided the genome sequence of the new coronavirus which confirmed that Covid-19 virus has 79% of its genetic material same as SARS.
Now let us tell you how a vaccine works.

A vaccine operates by introducing the weakened or inactive antigens of a pathogen in the immune system of a person. The immune system produces antibodies in response to the identification of a foreign body in one’s system.

As a result, when the same pathogen attacks the body in future, it immediately produces antibodies based on the registered memory.

You must be thinking,what are the different phases in vaccine development?

The process of vaccine development comprises of four phases

    1. Research is the first step in the development of a vaccine which involves identification of the biological pathogen and finding out its structure through genetic sequencing.
    2. In second phase, the trial vaccine is tried on animals before it can be tested on humans. In case of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, animal trials are being entirely skipped with the permission of the regulators, in what is being termed as Modern trials in US. By skipping animal trials, the purpose is to fast-track the development of the vaccine.

Phases of Vaccine developmentWithin the second phase, clinical trial of vaccines on humans comprises of three other stages which is out of the scope of this article. But it basically increases number of subjects on whom it is tested. This is done to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine. And this testing can take months to years

3. Once the vaccine is finalized to be distributed amongst people, it has to undergo an approval by the government regulatory authorities, for instance Food and Drug Administration in US.

4. The approved vaccine is then manufactured in huge numbers to cover an entire population. Manufacturing is naturally followed by distribution, for which a plan is designed in a process of consultation between the Centre and the states.

Measures taken for quick development of Covid-19 vaccine

Since the rate of success in clinical trials is very low and rarely 10 percent of them get final approval by regulatory authorities, several institutions around the world have started clinical trials using different methods.

Such diversification in vaccine development is very much required in light of the strong possibility of the mutation of SARS-CoV-2.

Pic courtesy NY times.

Overall, the development of a vaccine is a long process, yet the leaps being taken in developing Covid-19 vaccine will prepare the world to develop a vaccine on an emergency basis in case such a pandemic strikes again.

That’s all for this article folks. To gain more knowledge on vaccine development for COVID-19, you can click on the following links.

How close are we to create a vaccine for Coronavirus ??

Govt sets up national vaccine task force

India co-sponsors resolution calling for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines

This article series is a part of ForumIAS's Qrious Project. You can find other article in the series HERE→

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