COVID-19 Vaccine Testing in the Pipeline

NEXU Science Communications

While the timeline to have a vaccine available by January 2021 is a “stretch goal,” the National Institutes of Health has already begun to prepare for large-scale testing.

COVID 19 causing virus, artists' rendition
NEXU Science Communications

Several Vaccine Options

NIH Director Francis Collins told the Associated Press that there are four to five potential COVID-19 vaccines that look “promising.” The expectation is that one or two of them could be ready for large-scale testing by July. The others would follow soon thereafter.

Several of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies have partnered with the NIH to create a plan to ramp up vaccine creation when ready. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is developing it’s own plan to produce possible vaccines with a goal of having 300 million doses available to distribute in January.

Outside of the U.S., there are another handful of potential vaccine candidates in the first stages of testing or nearly ready for small-scale tests. Two in particular, developed by the NIH and Moderna, Inc. as well as Britain’s Oxford University are getting the most attention.

The Partnership

The NIH’s broad partnership with pharmaceutical companies is called ACTIV – Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines. Vaccine makers are allowed to sign on, follow the planned guidelines and share the same informational database.

This sort of structure could allow scientists to develop a vaccine faster than any other in history. Working together to test with the same methods rather than developing independent processes could be a massive time saver.

Potential Challenges

One of the challenges of creating a COVID-19 vaccine is that it must work equally for younger and older patients. This is true despite the fact that age plays a large factor in how serious the virus manifests itself.

Experts will pay close attention to how older adults and people with chronic health conditions respond to vaccine shots. “If you had a vaccine that only worked for 20-year-olds and didn’t work for 70-year-olds, that would not be a success,” Collins said.

There is also the matter of cost. Not only the development of the vaccine, but also what Americans will be able to afford during an economic downturn. While programs like Medicare Advantage could help older Americans pay for the drug, younger jobless Americans could struggle.

The January timeline is extremely ambitious. Collins calls it a “very bold plan” and “a stretch goal if there ever was one.”

But he remained optimistic that the partnership could help speed things up.

“If we can get this vaccine out there even a day sooner than otherwise we might have, that’s going to matter to somebody,” Collins remarked.