The COVID-19 pandemic has completely shattered the lives of people throughout the world. As of 14th January 2021, COVID-19 globally affected approximately 93 million people and caused 2 million deaths. The elderly population and people with comorbidities like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and asthma are most vulnerable to serious complications arising due to this disease.
Although people are exercising due measures, such as wearing masks and washing hands to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, such measures are not sufficient. A vaccine that combats COVID-19 disease is important for controlling the pandemic.
Why do we need a vaccine?
Many pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies are conducting research to develop effective vaccines that might help prevent COVID-19. While some of the vaccines have gained regulatory approvals, others are undergoing pre-clinical and clinical trials.
Meanwhile, millions of people are still vulnerable to infections. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine will help them in developing immunity against the virus. This is not only important for the person getting vaccinated but also for the surrounding people. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine and following all the recommended safety measures is the perfect solution to escape from this highly contagious infection.
Why is there a rat-race?
There is indeed a race amongst companies to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. Several companies are involved in the development of this vaccine now and a few companies have also successfully gained regulatory approval for the same.
In a pandemic like COVID-19, time is of essence. The earlier the vaccine reaches the market, the more benefit it will provide to the public. Economic considerations such as taking the first-mover advantage and capturing maximum market share, is also an important factor.
It is important to note that out of the total vaccines selected after pre-clinical trials, only 7% make it to human clinical trials. Out of these vaccines that enter human trials, only 20% are successful. Thus, a greater number of vaccines must be in development to improve the chances of success.
Stages of development of COVID-19 vaccine
The vaccine, before reaching the market, will undergo various stages of development. These include:
- Exploratory stage: The potential vaccine candidates undergo research in the laboratory for at least two to four years.
- Pre-clinical development: This stage usually lasts for about a year or two. In this stage, the potential vaccine candidates undergo animal testing for efficacy and side effects.
- Clinical development: Clinical development involves the testing of the vaccine on human volunteers. This stage comprises Phase-I, II, III, and IV clinical trials. Of these phases, the first three are carried out before regulatory approval, and the last is performed after the regulatory approval.
Several items in the media suggest that there are approximately 200 vaccines under development, out of which around 52 vaccines are undergoing clinical trials. Following are some of the vaccines that received the approval of regulatory authorities:
- Moderna vaccine: It is an mRNA-based vaccine and is approved in various countries such as the US, Canada, France, UK and Switzerland. The company claims that it protects around 94.5% of the people.
- Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine: It is an Adenovirus vaccine and has gained approval in various countries like the US, India, Argentina and Mexico. It claims to protect around 90% of the people.
- Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine: It is an mRNA-based vaccine and is approved in various countries such as the UK, Canada, Mexico, Singapore and the US.
- Other vaccines: Other approved vaccines include Covaxin, developed by Bharat biotech and ICMR, and Sputnik V, developed by Acellena Contract Drug Research and Development and Gamaleya Research Institute.
COVID-19 vaccines under development
There are various COVID-19 vaccines under development. These include JNJ-78436735 by Johnson and Johnson, CVnCoV by Curevac, ZyCoV-D by Zydus Cadila, INO-4800 by Inovio Pharmaceuticals, and NVX-CoV2373 by Novavax.
There is enough pressure on pharmaceutical companies and regulatory authorities to make the vaccines available. Many companies are developing vaccines that regulatory authorities are authorizing under emergency use.