• Question: did the processes in creating the covid 19 vaccine different from the creation of other vaccines due to the urgency

    Asked by LeahP on 9 Nov 2021.
    • Photo: Andrew McGovern

      Andrew McGovern answered on 9 Nov 2021:

      Great question that I am sure lots of people have thought about!
      Generally to get a drug or vaccine on the market it can take over 7 years from start to finish, but those aren’t 7 years of experimenting.

      You see we have these overhead organisations that ensure no experiment is happening that is dangerous or that doesn’t look promising enough to merit further testing. These would be the food and drug administration in the states and the European medicines agency here. Most drugs are in a long line of drugs waiting to be reviewed and judged before moving onto the next stage (there are roughly 6-7 stages of testing). This can take up to 6 months of waiting in line.

      Also, between each stage for drugs and vaccines you will have to search for funding to pursue the next stage. This means showing your results from stage 3 to your current funders to get their support to move into stage 4 for example. They don’t always supported again, the investors know that most drugs don’t make it on the market and to get a drug close costs a billion euro of investment. That is a lot of risk.

      The COVID-19 vaccines had no such delays. It was a global issue with global investment from companies. Every company that could attempt to make a vaccine, tried to develop one and got financial backing. I think there were over 50 on trial at one stage! Not only this, but given the amount of people COVID-19 was effecting world wide, the FDA and EMA let these trials skip to the front of the queue to be reviewed. That doesn’t mean they skipped any of the science or testing as other drugs, they stepped in front of drugs waiting for review which were deemed less of an emergency. These could be drugs for anything from cancer to depression. Very important drugs for many, but not everyone like COVID has impacted.

      I hope that made sense 🙂

    • Photo: Danielle Nader

      Danielle Nader answered on 9 Nov 2021: last edited 12 Nov 2021 12:17 pm

      In a way, yes. It had to be much quicker and sped up due to the severity of the situation. This is for a few reasons:
      1- We knew about similar viruses already. In 2003 and 2012, we had small scale ‘epidemics’ of respiratory viruses. They share about 40 – 80% similarity to the virus that causes COVID19.
      2- Money and collaborations play a huge role in this. Scientists across the world were all working to make discoveries about the virus as quick as possible to speed up the vaccine process.
      3- Usually to make a vaccine, you need clinical trails (1,2,3). In a severe case like COVID19, government agencies agreed to combine these trials instead of having them separately, which usually takes years.

      To compare it, the mumps vaccine was the quickest vaccine against a virus made, and that took 4 years!

    • Photo: Dave Healy

      Dave Healy answered on 9 Nov 2021:

      Yes Danielle! You got there before me. Really cool fact about the Mumps vaccine. Also a huge number of vaccines (about 40!), including Mumps, were developed by the same guy, Maurice Hilleman.

      Another thing about the development and testing the COVID vaccines was that the number of cases of COVID and the high chance that people might get it help speed up trials. Normally in vaccine development you have to give people the vaccine, wait for a certain period of time, and then check if they’ve gotten the disease. That can take ages because the chance of them getting that particular disease could be low. However, with COVID there was so much of it around that people were much more likely to come in contact with it, so this factor was key for the speed of the trials.

    • Photo: Cyrille Thinnes

      Cyrille Thinnes answered on 10 Nov 2021:

      Yes indeed, a great example of how urgency leads to innovation! Traditionally, the creation of a vaccine would be a stepwise process, one after the other – here, some of these steps were undertaken together, informing each other more efficiently. Such steps are also sometimes competing with other priorities of people involved, such as, the approval processes – given the urgency, the COVID steps were prioritised and skipped the queue compared to, say, approval processes for other diseases. Also, vaccine development is very expensive from start to finish, which will require time to find the investments and funding for it. Given the global urgency, such financing was more readily available and things could move along faster.

    • Photo: Niamh Callinan Keenan

      Niamh Callinan Keenan answered on 12 Nov 2021:

      The actual process of creating the covid 19 vaccine was not different to other vaccines. One of the main reasons the covid 19 vaccine was quicker than other vaccines was the amount of people that signed up to clinical trials (experiments that taste the vaccine in people). You need a certain number of people for clinical trials to make sure that the EMA (European Medicines Agency) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) can say that the vaccine is safe to give to the rest of the world. Normally, it can take a time to get people to sign up for the trial but because covid 19 was so urgent, lots of people signed up for the trials.