To safely reopen the country and get back the life we once knew, health officials agree that we’re going to need a coronavirus vaccine. There are currently over a 100 vaccine projects in development across the globe, but only a few of them are moving onto clinical trials. Major pharmaceutical companies are scoring massive government contracts to develop and test these vaccines. The U.S. federal government just announced that it’s going to spend $1.2 billion on 300 million doses of a potential new vaccine from AstraZeneca, but it’s not clear if the drug is even going to work.
The Race to Find a Vaccine
There is currently no proven vaccine for COVID-19, but every country in the world would like one. With over 350,000 dead, the pandemic has crippled the global economy and the world’s superpowers are racing to find a vaccine, so they can restart their respective economies.
Finding a vaccine isn’t just about boosting the stock market; experts believe that the first country to develop a vaccine will be well positioned to dominate the global economy throughout the 21st century.
So, there’s a lot at stake.
If a country like China or Russia were to develop a vaccine before the U.S., there’s no guarantee they would share. These countries may end up charging a steep price for these drugs, effectively changing the global balance of power overnight.
The World Health Organization recently called on its members to unify their efforts on developing a vaccine, so the world may benefit as a whole instead of creating winners and losers.
Drugs cost money, so the richest countries will likely be first in line for a vaccine, but experts believe that’s still anywhere from 12 to 18 months away.
Hedging the Odds
The U.S. isn’t taking any chances when it comes to developing a vaccine. President Trump recently all-but demanded a vaccine from the private sector, and the government is spending billions to get various clinical trials off the ground, including those with Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Sanofi.
Moderna recently announced that Phase I of its ongoing clinical trials was a success; however, the company was scant on details, leading some health experts to question the results. The company revealed that eight participants had developed antibodies to the virus similar to those who had recovered from the disease, but the study has yet to be vetted or peer reviewed.
The U.S. government also agreed to pay $1.2 billion to AstraZeneca for 300 million doses of a potential new vaccine known as AZD1222. The drug will be used in a U.S. clinical trial and involve around 30,000 participants, which is expected to be the largest clinical trial to date. The program is on schedule to begin in September. The drug was first developed at the University of Oxford, and 100 million doses will go to the British population.
Ramping Up Production
In today’s global society, the vaccine in question will need to be scalable and accessible to populations around the world if we’re going to truly eradicate the virus.
One of the main reasons AZD1222 is attracting so much attention is that AstraZeneca has stated that it has found a way to produce up to a billion doses of the virus, thanks to the Serum Institute of India. AstraZeneca has been fielding offers from companies and governments around the world to ramp up production and awareness for the drug, but India has the resources to get things moving.
The Serum Institute of India is currently the world’s largest producer of vaccines by volume. It has agreed to produce 400 million doses of the drug annually for AstraZeneca. To start, the company is hoping to produce around 4 to 5 million doses a month. These drugs will then be used in clinical trials around the world.
As promising as this may seem, it’s not clear if AZD1222 is going to work. During Phase I/II of the clinical trial last month, the drug was given to 1,000 healthy volunteers in Britain between the ages of 18 and 55. The results are expected shortly.
Despite the uncertainty, the world is coming together to make sure we have the resources to scale up production of a vaccine once one becomes available. We still may be over a year from having an effective vaccine, but it should be available to everyone, not just the richest countries on earth.