One of the questions we’re asked the most — for pretty much all the reasons — is when a coronavirus vaccine will be ready.
These are the latest developments and expert predictions.
The end of 2020 is fast approaching, but there are still suggestions a vaccine could be ready this year
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the chief of the World Health Organisation, said just that earlier this week.
US President Donald Trump, of course, has repeatedly gone further, suggesting a vaccine would be ready before his country’s November 3 election.
In Australia, the Federal Government has been pointing at early next year.
However, the Budget basically told us not to get our hopes up for a vaccine anytime soon
This week’s Budget papers referred to “significant uncertainty” about the timetable for a vaccine, and referred to a rollout from the beginning of July next year as an “earlier” scenario.
However, the papers also said it was assumed a “population-wide” vaccination program would be “fully in place” in Australia by late next year.
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration has also put a dampener on expectations. This week, it said it wanted at least two months’ worth of safety data before it would authorise emergency use of a vaccine.
That makes it very unlikely a vaccine will be getting approval in the US before the election.
Last month, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a COVID-19 vaccine wouldn’t be widely available until mid-2021. (Mr Trump said he believed Robert Redfield was “confused”).
Experts aren’t expecting a widely available vaccine until mid-2021 at the earliest
Last week, a survey of vaccinology experts was released, and unfortunately, they think this year is unlikely.
These were their predictions (on average):
- Best guess for when a vaccine will be available to the general public in the USA and/or Canada: September/October 2021
- The soonest a vaccine will be available to the general public in the USA and/or Canada: June 2021
- The latest a vaccine will be available to the general public in the USA and/or Canada: July 2022
Keep in mind the survey of 28 mostly American and Canadian experts was carried out in late June, so a few months ago now.
The good news for Australia is that one of the vaccines it has a deal in place for is among the current frontrunners
The University of Oxford, in conjunction with Britain-based company AstraZeneca, could provide early analysis of data from its large vaccine trial over the next two months.
The team behind that vaccine, which Australia has an early-access deal in place for, says it is working at “unprecedented speed”.
US drugmaker Pfizer Inc (with German partner BioNTech SE) and US biotech Moderna are in similar positions, with Johnson & Johnson not far behind.
Australia also has a deal in place for a vaccine being developed at the University of Queensland. That vaccine is still at phase I of clinical trials, with phase III predicted to be completed by mid-2021.
Finally, don’t get excited that Russia and China have already given people vaccinations
Back in August, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his country had won the race for the world’s first approved coronavirus vaccine.
Russia has since pushed ahead with mass public vaccinations alongside its main human trial. However, there are concerns that the country has prioritised national prestige over solid science and safety.
In China, meanwhile, an emergency-use vaccination program aimed at essential workers and others at high risk of infection was launched in July. That program has since seen hundreds of thousands of people vaccinated.
However, the key point is that the vaccines being used in both Russia and China have not passed final Phase III trials.
What we’re waiting for in Australia is a vaccine that has passed all of the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s safety and efficacy assessments.
The United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and the World Health Organisation have also set similar minimum standards for effectiveness.
Vaccines must demonstrate at least 50 per cent efficacy — meaning there has to be at least twice as many infections among trial volunteers who got a placebo than in the vaccine group.