Just recently, the United States surpassed more than 200,000 COVID-19 cases in one day, according to CNBC, with no signs of the pandemic coming to an end soon. Although we’ve had preventative measures and testing in place to stop the spreading of the disease, our treatment options are rather scarce and limited.
More specifically, we are yet to successfully create, test, manufacture and distribute a vaccine for developing immunity to the virus. We have managed to create several test vaccines but mass production and distribution will remain a challenge.
So why has it taken us so long to develop a proper COVID-19 vaccine?
Well, there is actually a multitude of reasons and the answer isn’t as simple as you’d think. The process for a vaccine is complicated, requires collaboration and lots of careful planning.
Back in April, health officials estimated it would be another 12-18 months before a suitable vaccine would be released to the public, according to CNN. Currently, more than 200 different COVID-19 vaccines are in development with many in phase three trials (studies with large groups and populations).
Recently, several pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer and research groups such as the Oxford Vaccine Group announced its coronavirus vaccine was more than 90% effective, according to the New York Times. Even with these advancements, it will most likely be months before a vaccine will be widely available to the public.
In a nutshell, vaccine development cannot be rushed.
“The process of developing, testing and licensing a vaccine for widespread population use is designed to be slow, deliberative, peer-reviewed, reflective, evidence-based so that we don’t make mistakes,” Dr. Greg Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, said, according to Mayo Clinic News.
A rushed vaccine could be ineffective and cause health problems. Many factors need to be considered by researchers.
Will the vaccine provide only temporary immunity? Will there be any unintended health side effects?
With extensive trials and testing, the dose would also require approval from the FDA.
This deliberate and thoughtful process is what’s taking us so long to develop a vaccine. But besides development, factors are slowing down our efforts.
Another major problem hindering the development of a vaccine is a lack of coordination and support of international efforts. The Trump administration recently stated it would not be joining the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, a global effort to develop, manufacture and distribute a coronavirus vaccine because of the group’s association with the World Health Organization.
Trump in the past has criticized and slammed the WHO for a “China-centric” response to the virus. Other country leaders such as Vladimir Putin of Russia have claimed to successfully develop a coronavirus vaccine but with a lack of large test trials, the vaccine may be dangerously rushed, according to health officials.
Microsoft recently shared that hacker groups backed by the Russian and North Korean governments launched malware attacks against several companies to steal coronavirus vaccine research, according to BBC. The lack of a concerted effort among nations is concerning.
“It’s concerning that countries are still not able to set aside their differences during a time of global crisis to develop a vaccine,” Logan Burgess, a junior at Cleveland Charter High School, said.
There’s been a huge spike in the funding of viral research, and communities of scientific experts have come together to help dissolve this global pandemic, but without the cooperation of countries, it will significantly hinder efficacy.
The final and probably biggest challenge facing the American government is the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Pfizer’s vaccine requires specific conditions and must be stored in temperatures of -70℃, according to CNN Health. Also, distributing a pharmaceutical product is a complicated procedure requiring both state and federal governments to specify where to send doses along with additional medical supplies including needles, syringes, etc.
Medical health practitioners will need to ensure that people come back for a second dosage three weeks after their first and identify high-risk areas for immunization. With many unanswered questions and confusion about the details of distributing a vaccine, this will be a major issue the government will have to figure out and tackle head-on.