Clinical Trials And The Future Of A COVID-19 Vaccine (infographic)

As the pandemic rages on, many of us are wondering whether there is any relief in sight. Absent a cure or a vaccine, life isn’t going to get back to normal any time soon. We have vaccines for similar diseases like the flu, so why can’t we just whip up a vaccine to the novel coronavirus and be done with it? As it turns out, whipping up a vaccine takes time and clinical trials, and the fastest vaccine made from scratch to ever make it to the market was the mumps vaccine and it took upwards of four years. We may be in this for the long haul.

A Brief History Of Vaccines

The idea of innoculations likely came from ancient China, where smallpox scabs were ground up, burned, and the smoke puffed into the nostrils of the person being inoculated. Various methods of inoculation have been used since, and George Washington even inoculated his armies by taking scabs and pus from smallpox victims and rubbing it into open wounds, usually purposeful cuts, of his army. Vaccines as we know them today are actually fairly recent, starting with a smallpox vaccine in the 1700s, though widespread efforts to vaccinate people would come a little later still.

The Development Of Vaccines Ends With Years Of Clinical Trials, Typically

For all the years of research it takes to create a vaccine, the creation of a vaccine is not the end of the road. After a vaccine for a disease is created it has to go through clinical trials, which can take years.

In the United States, it takes an average of 12 years for a new drug to reach the marketplace. It has to be proven safe and effective before it can reach consumers. On average it takes 3.5 years to develop a new drug, 30 days for the application to test it, a year for phase one, two years for phase two, and three years for phase three of trials, followed by 2.5 years for the new drug application to go through to allow it to be used on the healthcare market. What’s more, only about 10% of drugs that make it to trial are ever approved for use.

These facts do not bode well for the rapid creation of a COVID-19 vaccine, but there are a few places scientists and policy makers are tightening up the process.

How To Get To A Vaccine Faster

The best way to find a working vaccine for COVID-19 is to test multiple vaccines simultaneously. Worldwide there are already eight potential vaccines in the clinical trial phase, and in the United States there are 144 potential treatments in active trials and another 457 in the planning stages. There are also 16 COVID-19 vaccines worldwide in pre-clinical trials waiting to make it to the clinical trial phase.

By moving forward with multiple clinical trials simultaneously, we may be able to arrive at a vaccine quicker. Currently there are six trials worldwide in phase one, three in phase two, and two in phase three. Each phase has more people in it - from 20-100 in phase one trials to 1000-5000 in phase three trials.

After a drug is proven to be both safe and effective it can be deployed into the general population, which will require large-scale manufacturing efforts.

The biggest holdup for the COVID-19 vaccine is going to be enrollment. People love to benefit from medical research but few actually want to participate in it. If you want a vaccine, consider taking part in a study or trial.

Adaptive trials, in which new data is used to tweak the trial, are also helping to bring a potential cure or vaccine to market sooner. We already have data from a previous SARS vaccine upon which we can build, so expecting a vaccine by the winter, while highly optimistic, is within reason.

Learn more about clinical trials below.

Clinical Trials In The Age of Coronavirus - infographic

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