Until now, what’s the quickest a vaccine has ever been developed?

what's the fastest a vaccine has been made
Photo via Nenad Stojkovic/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

As President Trump said that a COVID-19 vaccine could be ready as early as January 2021, experts warn that his timeline is incredibly optimistic. Though Dr. Anthony Fauci, the main face of the White House’s coronavirus task force, estimated at the beginning of the pandemic that it might take 12-18 months to create a vaccine, researchers have never developed one that quickly. Then, what’s the fastest a vaccine has ever been made?

In fact, the mumps vaccine is the quickest to have ever been developed, according to National Geographic. And that took four years, from collecting viral samples to licensing the drug in 1967. 

Typically, vaccines take as long as 10-15 years to develop, according to the History of Vaccines. Researchers have to employ three phases to create one, beginning with testing animals before slowly moving to testing on people. Development takes so long because researchers have to wait for thousands of healthy people to contract a virus and then volunteer to get the vaccine—unless they use ethically questionable human challenge trials. In a human challenge trial, people voluntarily get infected with a virus so they can test out the vaccine. 

Still, the search for a COVID-19 vaccine stands out from other developments because it is the first one the entire science community has come together to develop. There are 110 COVID-10 vaccines in progress, and eight have already tested potential candidates in human subjects. Four vaccines that are being worked on in the U.S. have moved to Phase 3 of the development stage. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said it wants to deliver 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021.

With about a week until the presidential election, Trump has repeatedly talked about wanting a COVID-19 vaccine ready by Nov. 3. Researchers continue to say a vaccine couldn’t be made that quickly, but now some are worried that the FDA, under Trump’s direction, will try to fast-track a vaccine before clinical trials are finished. In late October, Dr. Anthony Fauci said we could know whether a vaccine is safe and effective by the end of November or early December.

But AstraZeneca had to briefly halt its phase 3 trials in September after one person experienced adverse side effects. On Oct. 12, another vaccine in its phase 3 trial, this one by Johnson & Johnson, had to be paused after one of the participants experienced an unexplained illness. Pfizer said it wouldn’t seek emergency authorization of its vaccine until late November, while Moderna said its version could be ready by December.

On Sept. 18, Trump said there would be enough vaccines for all Americans by April 2021, though plenty of other scientists and experts don’t agree with that optimistic view. Making matters even more worrisome, the WHO said as many as 2 million people could die from COVID-19 before a global vaccine is ready for global use.

While it’s unclear whether an effective COVID-19 vaccine will be ready by January 2021, it’s on track to become the fastest developed vaccine in history. 

Read more on the coronavirus vaccine:

Sources: History of Vaccines, CDC, National Geographic

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