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How the world worked together to develop a vaccine for COVID-19

Rapid sharing of data related to the virus greatly increased dissemination of knowledge about the pathogen and aided vaccine design
Two laboratory workers working together

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has had an unprecedented social and economic global impact. The potential for an effective vaccine to mitigate these effects has led to an equally unprecedented international effort to accelerate development of a vaccine to combat COVID-19.

One COVID vaccine candidate began evaluation in a Phase 3 within just 4 months of vaccine development. What can explain this rapid development process?

Global information sharing

Rapid sharing of data related to SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 disease has greatly increased dissemination of knowledge about the pathogen and aided vaccine design.

For example, the genome for SARS-CoV-2 was published online within days, in contrast to the SARS-CoV-1 outbreak in 2003 when it took almost three months for the virus’ genetic sequence to be shared.

Having this information early meant that researchers around the world with existing expertise in vaccine design were able to start work quickly on producing vaccine candidates.

Pre-existing vaccine technology and expertise

Many centres around the world had been developing novel vaccine technologies prior to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Some had even developed and clinically tested vaccines against SARS-CoV-1 and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus, two other coronaviruses related to SARS-CoV-2.

Given pre-existing safety data, vaccine technologies and the levels of expertise working on these platforms, established vaccine developers in industry and academia were able to rapidly begin developing vaccines against COVID-19.

For example, previous experience using the adenoviral vector ChAdOx1 in the design of a MERS vaccine meant the researchers at the University of Oxford were able to design and test their COVID-19 vaccine — ChAdOx1-nCOv19 —extremely rapidly.

In another example, Inovio’s experience in developing a safe and immunogenic DNA vaccine against MERS means they were able to rapidly produce and initiate clinical testing of a DNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2.

Further reading

In this document, there is a summary of the ways in which vaccine development has changed for COVID-19 in order to accelerate identification of an effective vaccine, as well some of the challenges faced in vaccine development and roll out of any effective vaccine.

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Vaccine Development: Finding a Vaccine for COVID-19 and Future Pandemics

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