A coronavirus vaccine is likely our best option for life to return to normal. Yes, we will find treatments that will ease the burden on the health care system. We will also get immunity tests so that some people can go out in public and head back to work; however, a vaccine will ease the society-wide social distancing that will otherwise likely have to stay in place.
The reason is that there will always be pockets of COVID-19 in an unvaccinated population. So, if the lockdown is lifted the virus will start spreading again. Even if we can test everyone for COVID-19, which would be difficult, there’s a chance of false negatives or of some being tested too early in the infection for the virus to be detected. The falsely-cleared people will then be released back into society and there will be another outbreak.
The optimistic timeline to get a vaccine is 12-18 months, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases in
the US. However, this timeline is even too optimistic for many experts in the field. The Ebola vaccine took about 5 years to research and develop. The SARS vaccine was over 13 years, and even then it was not produced at mass scale due to the expense.
Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, says that he will spend billions of dollars to help develop a vaccine. He will fund factory construction for the most promising coronavirus vaccine development efforts.
Thankfully, there are many researchers hard at work on a vaccine. Many of them are using new technologies in order to better facilitate the rapid dissemination and administration of the vaccine.
Here are some of the latest projects that are progressing in their search for a logistics-friendly COVID-19 vaccine.
University of Pittsburgh – Microneedles
The University of Pittsburgh is creating a vaccine that would be delivered on a fingertip-sized patch. This vaccine was tested on mice and produced enough antibodies to fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This vaccine is based on the historical approach to flu vaccines. It uses lab-made pieces of viral protein to create antibodies. The researchers were able to create this vaccine quickly because they used existing research on similar coronaviruses, SARS and MERS.
The patch is a new way of administering a vaccine. It consists of 400 microneedles made of sugar and protein. The patch is stuck on the patient’s skin and the needles dissolve, releasing the content of the vaccine into the skin. This new method of vaccination is highly scalable because it is easy to use, not requiring a nurse or doctor to administer. It is also safer to transport and handle than a needle.
Testing on Ferrets
Scientists in Australia are testing a new vaccine for the coronavirus using ferrets. These animals are excellent test subjects for this vaccine because they share a receptor with humans that the virus uses to bind itself to respiratory cells.
A study in Saskatchewan is also testing ferrets for immunity after injecting them with a vaccine and the virus. They hope to go to human clinical trials in the fall.
The Australian study is also evaluating a new method of administration for the vaccine, that includes an intramuscular injection and a nasal spray, which will be easier to scale, distribute and administer.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), the organization running the study, is still holding to an optimistic timeline for delivery of the vaccine to consumers. The study is moving at a very fast pace, with it already reaching the preclinical testing stage after just 8 weeks.
NIH and Moderna
National Institutes of Health (NIH) officials have been working with biotech company Moderna to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. The first human trials for this vaccine began on March 16th.
Their potential coronavirus vaccine is being created via a new technology called a messenger RNA vaccine. This type of vaccine has never been used. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has stuck to his timeline, saying on March 26th vaccine development is on pace to be finished in 12 to 18 months. The US government plans to expedite production by helping companies fund development even when vaccines are not yet proven.
Dr. Anthony Fauci says, “It’ll take a few months to get the data to where we’ll feel confident to go to phase two, and then a few months from now we’ll be in phase two and I think we’re right on target for the year to year and a half.”
Novavax, which has worked on vaccines for SARS and MERS, is beginning human trials for a vaccine in Australia in mid-May. The Maryland biotech company began working on a technology to replicate the virus in the lab in January. Their vaccine candidate produced a high number of antibodies in preclinical testing.
The company is giving over 130 participants two doses of the vaccine when the trial starts. If all goes well, the results should be available in July.
Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson, a global healthcare company in the US, is expecting to start clinical trials in September. They have received almost $500 million from the US Department of Health and Human Services, and are partnering with the Baylor University School of Medicine.
Vaccine Trials in Canada
There are a few trials taking place in Canada as well. Western University is developing a COVID-19 vaccine as well as a coronavirus vaccine bank that could fast-track potential vaccine development for future epidemics.
Scientists at the University of Saskatchewan are trying to identify common lab and agricultural animals that pose risks for infection. They are also trying to identify good animal models to be used for scientific studies.
A University of Alberta cancer researcher and his biotech company are developing a DNA vaccine. These vaccines introduce genetic material into a patient’s cells, tricking the immune system into a response. This type of vaccine is easy to produce at scale, is highly stable, and does not use an infectious substance in immunization.
Researchers at Laval University in Quebec City, after already successfully fighting the Zika and MERS viruses, are attempting to create their own COVID-19 vaccine by reverse-engineering the DNA of the coronavirus.
Logistics Challenges – Developing, manufacturing and delivering a vaccine
There are many logistics challenges created when researchers attempt to produce a vaccine this quickly. An enormous amount of supplies and pharmaceuticals are needed for large-scale clinical trials. Supply chains are already strained due to the downturn in the economy and social distancing measures in place across the world. Now, vaccine studies will need supplies even faster than normal. Logistics experts will need to come alongside researchers in order to ensure there are no delays in vaccine development.
Public health and logistics experts also worry that some countries may not be ready to manufacture and deliver the vaccine rapidly once it is developed. By the time the vaccine is developed, most countries will likely have been under various types of mitigation measures for a year or more. There will be little patience for delays in the delivery of the coronavirus vaccine.
Logistics experts are particularly concerned about cold chain distribution, particularly in developing countries. Vaccines will have to be stored at a very specific, low temperature as they are delivered to medical centers, clinics, schools, or wherever the vaccine will be administered. Governments and administrators need to start building these logistics systems now so that they are ready when a vaccine is developed.
At Bay Area Research Logistics, we are ready to help with logistics support for your research projects. Please contact us if you have any questions.