As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to climb across the U.S., the demand for a vaccine has never been higher. All 50 states are in the process of reopening, but recent spikes in Florida, Texas, California, Arizona, and the Carolinas are now giving health officials pause. With many people eschewing the latest safety and infection prevention practices, it’s not clear if we can safely reopen without a vaccine.
The global healthcare industry is doing everything it can to get a vaccine to market as quickly as possible, including pouring money into untested drugs, reaching out to unlikely business partners, and collaborating with providers on the ground. Find out how the industry is fast-tracking the development process.
The Current Vaccine Timeline
Dr. Anthony Fauci, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and the White House Coronavirus Task Force, spoke on Capitol Hill earlier this week – and he outlined several steps the country will need to take to get everyone vaccinated.
Health officials say it could still take up to a year to get a working vaccine to market, but others are more optimistic, saying we could have a viable drug by the end of the year. The Trump Administration says it wants a vaccine by January 2021 as part of its “Operation Warp Speed.”
However, major players in the pharmaceutical industry say that it usually takes around 10 years to develop a vaccine. The CEO of Johnson & Johnson also said it will be more than 12 months before we see a working product on the market.
This isn’t the first time the world has rushed to develop a vaccine. It took 1.5 years to create one for Zika, four years for mumps, more than five years for Ebola, and more than ten years for influenza.
It’s not clear how long it will take, but here are some of the ways we can speed up the process:
- Corporate Funding
Private companies and governments around the world are throwing money at potential vaccines before they have been tested in the field. Traditionally, when developing new drugs, companies need to see proof that it works or will likely work before investing millions of dollars.
That’s not the case with a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Fundraising gives these companies and their teams the resources they need to speed up the development process. This also gives them the chance to scale up production of the drug if it does prove successful. These companies will need to produce millions, if not billions, of doses to be distributed around the world. Many companies are manufacturing these drugs while they are still in clinical trials, which means they are physically producing goods that might not even work.
The stocks of these companies have shot up in recent weeks as they announce their development plans. Some firms have also scored massive payouts from the federal government to speed up testing.
- Spreading the Wealth
Considering no one knows whether these drugs will work, countries and health officials are trying to hedge their bets by developing more than one product at once. The World Health Organization says there are currently 16 potential vaccines in clinical trials around the world, with four taking place in the U.S, including Moderna Inc.’s MRNA, mRNA-1273, Inovio’s INO-4800, Novavax Inc.’s NVAX, NVX‑CoV2373, and BioNTech and Pfizer Inc.’s PFE, BNT162. Johnson & Jonson, ImmunityBio Inc. and NantKwest Inc. have also agreed to bring their vaccines to the U.S. if they pass the preclinical trial phase.
Developing more than one vaccine increases the chances of success. If one were to fail, there will be several more waiting in the wings. Researchers will also use these failures to their advantage. Every failed vaccine will tell us more about what works and what doesn’t.
- Public Awareness
Vaccinations are still a bit controversial in some circles. While the pharmaceutical industry may be hard at work on a vaccine, you can start communicating with your patients to speed up this process. Once a drug reaches the market, providers will need to distribute them in bulk and immunize as many patients as possible. That means your patients will need to trust you and the eventual vaccine.
While we still don’t have a finished product, remind your patients that the industry will have one as soon as possible. Tell them the industry isn’t cutting corners or putting patients at risk to speed up development, so they feel more comfortable getting vaccinated. Talk to them about their concerns ahead of time, such as their distrust of vaccines, the medical industry, or the U.S. government, to make the vaccination process as seamless as possible.
Are We Moving Too Fast?
There’s some debate within the medical community in terms of whether we are moving too fast on this front. We’ve seen dozens of news reports and headlines over the last few months saying a working drug should be on the market within 12 to 18 months, which could put enormous pressure on public health officials. If the drug is delayed, it could send the markets tumbling, and wreak havoc on life across the U.S., so it’s best to temper our expectations.
Speaking on Capitol Hill, Dr. Fauci assured members of Congress that the science and efficacy of the drug will not be at risk. He said the only thing we have to lose is money by investing millions in untested drugs. That’s a financial risk these companies are willing to take, considering the reward could be substantial.
The jury is out on when we will have a vaccine, but powerful forces are coming together to speed things up. Keep this information in mind as you discuss the vaccine timeline with your patients.