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Unprecedented political will could bring a quick vaccine in months


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Researchers are being given a boost on everything from fast regulations to sequencing of virus genome


The breakneck speed of development has been helped by unprecedented political and medical will (Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty)



The race to develop an effective coronavirus vaccine seems to be paying off, with experts now predicting one could become available in as little as six months.


This is much quicker than previous predictions of 12 to 18 months, already an ambitious target - although six months is still quite a long way off, given that an effective vaccine is seen as the only way to really conquer coronavirus.


The breakneck speed of development has been helped by unprecedented political and medical will, which means around 30 teams around the world, including one from Oxford University, are now working on vaccines.


Meanwhile scientists had already learned a lot that can help them with a Covid-19 vaccine from studying how the immune system responds to previous coronaviruses, such as Sars and Mers.


Another big boost comes from the fact that no significant mutation has been observed in the virus - in contrast, for example, to influenza - although scientists cautioned that that could change and the situation would need to be monitored closely.


This reduces the prospect that by the time a vaccine has been successfully tested it no longer works on the virus, which has since mutated.


It also suggests the vaccine will work in the longer term, so it can be used to get ahead of the virus over the next few years.


In logistical terms, too, the work on this vaccine is unprecedented.


They were given an early boost after the Chinese government quickly sequenced the genetic code of the virus and  made it available to scientists around the world.


A regulatory process that normally takes several months is expected to be shrunk to several days - not because onerous safety and effectiveness tests are being dropped but principally because the regulators will put enormous teams of people on it.


Meanwhile, the different stages of the process, normally done one at a time, are being done in parallel.


And so a team may begin testing a vaccine in a human before they have completed tests in animals - at the same time as starting to manufacture large amounts of the vaccine for use in bigger tests - and potentially even public use, further down the line, assuming it’s given clearance.


The upshot of this is that a process that typically takes five years could end up being done in less than a year.




oh oh

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