November 24, 2020
Will there be a coronavirus vaccine this year? What you need to know

Will there be a coronavirus vaccine before New Year’s? What you need to know


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Experts are hopeful that a vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus will become available sooner rather than later.


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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

While many public health experts have been critical of the US response to the coronavirus pandemic, one doctor has said the global effort to develop vaccines has been, so far, “nearly flawless.” Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, told the Washington Post he expects multiple vaccines will be proven safe and effective by year’s end, about one year after the December 2019 discovery of SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease. “Staggeringly impressive,” he added.

But getting one or more vaccines through clinical trials to reach Food and Drug Administration approval is just the first leg of the journey back to normalcy. The next is convincing enough people to take it. Sixty-three percent of US adults expressed safety concerns over a coronavirus vaccine — with 40% of respondents specifically worrying that its fast-paced development has been too fast — in an October Harris Poll

Even if most people eventually do decide to take coronavirus vaccines, it’s still too early to tell how effective they will be. The FDA says it won’t approve anything that doesn’t work at least half the time, but some scientists question whether that’s even effective enough. The hope is, out of a field of dozens of candidates, at least a few work better than that.

Currently there are 59 coronavirus vaccines in various stages of clinical trials, with a handful almost ready to apply for approval. Most experts believe we’ll have several ready to distribute by early 2021, but it probably won’t be until 2022 before life starts to get back to normal.

Here, we survey the current landscape for a developing coronavirus vaccine. This article updates frequently and is intended to be a general overview and not a source of medical advice. If you’re seeking more information about coronavirus testing, here’s how to find a testing site near you.


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Important COVID-19 vaccine news 

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An effective coronavirus vaccine might be the only way to bring a stop to preventative measures, like social distancing and face masks.


James Martin/CNET

COVID vaccine development is getting faster

Several acceleration efforts are currently underway, like the White House’s Operation Warp Speed, which is meant to cut through regulatory red tape to speed up vaccine development and be ready to distribute vaccines as soon as they receive FDA approval. So far, the US government has pledged over $10 billion to several vaccine manufacturers to secure a total of 800 million vaccine doses.

Vaccines typically take about 10 to 15 years to develop and approve, through four phases that include human trials. But with Operation Warp Speed, rather than submitting all sections of the application after all four phases are done, approved vaccine projects can submit data to the FDA bit by bit. 

Meanwhile, the program is also financially backing efforts to start manufacturing doses while clinical trials are still ongoing. That means if and when those vaccines do get approved, there will already be a store of doses ready to distribute nationally. “I would hope that by the time we get well into the second half of 2021 that the companies will have delivered the hundreds of millions of doses they have promised,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Forbes in August.

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Experts say recent surges in coronavirus cases aren’t merely the result of the US doing more testing, as a higher percentage of those tested are coming up positive compared to earlier stages of the pandemic.


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Promising coronavirus vaccines from UK, US, China

Here’s a quick look at some of the frontrunners in the race to find a vaccine for COVID-19, including where the vaccines are being developed, where they are on testing them, and when scientists think they might be ready for widespread distribution, if known.

Oxford University/AstraZeneca (UK): AstraZeneca has restarted testing of its vaccine, which began with 100,000 human volunteers in at least three countries. Lead researcher Dr. Sarah Gilbert had initially said they’re aiming for a fall 2020 release

Moderna (US): An apparent scuffle with government regulators delayed large-scale human testing, but Moderna’s CEO has told Barron’s he still expects the company will know by Thanksgiving if the vaccine is safe and effective and should be able to distribute it in early 2021 if it is.

Pfizer (US): Although its four COVID-19 vaccine candidates are still in early-stage human trials, two of them have been fast-tracked by the FDA. Pfizer’s chief business officer told the US Congress the company may be ready to apply for FDA approval by October.


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SinoVac (China): Currently testing its vaccine on about 10,000 human volunteers in China and about 9,000 in Brazil and is set to begin testing on about 1,900 test subjects in Indonesia soon. CEO of BioPharma, SinoVac’s Indonesian partner, has said he expects the vaccine to be ready by early 2021.

SinoPharm (China): Currently testing about 15,000 volunteers in the Middle East in a trial the state-owned company expects to last three to six months. Early results suggest the drug is safe and at least somewhat effective. SinoPharm recently built a second facility to manufacture the vaccine, doubling its capacity to about 200 million doses per year.

CanSino Biologics (China): Set to begin large-scale human trials this summer, CanSino’s vaccine has already been approved for the Chinese military. The vaccine is based on a modified common cold virus, which some experts warn could make it less effective than other vaccine efforts.

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Wearing a face mask remains the surest way of preventing transmission of the coronavirus.


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Will there be just one vaccine for everyone?

We probably won’t know until next year, but Fauci has suggested it might require several different vaccines made and distributed by different labs to bring an end to the pandemic, in a paper published May 11 in the journal Science. He also has said he foresees different vaccines being given to different patient populations. For example, one vaccine for elderly or other high-risk patients, another for healthy adults, another for children, etc.

What happens if we never find a coronavirus vaccine?

Coronaviruses are a large class of viruses and so far there are no vaccines for any of them. While there are promising early results, there’s no guarantee of a vaccine by 2021. Statistically, only about 6% of vaccine candidates ever make it through to market, according to a Reuters special report.

Early evidence suggests that the coronavirus doesn’t appear to mutate as quickly or often as the flu, and it’s thought that the virus has not yet mutated significantly enough to disrupt vaccine development — although our knowledge could change.

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Most experts expect a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, by 2021.


James Martin/CNET

The longer we go without a vaccine, the more likely focus will shift toward treatments, such as the experimental antiviral drug remdesivir, which has reportedly shown promising results, and dexamethasone, a steroid that doctors say increases survival rates among the most serious cases. With effective therapeutic treatments, many viruses that used to be fatal are no longer death sentences. Patients with HIV, for example, can now expect to enjoy the same life expectancy as non-HIV-positive individuals, thanks to tremendous advances in treatment. 

Eventually, the global population may reach the 60% to 70% rate required for herd immunity to protect those who aren’t immune, which is, ultimately, the goal of a vaccine.



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