Jan 20, 2021

The lightning-fast quest for COVID vaccines — and what it means for other diseases

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, futurism

But by the start of December, the developers of several vaccines had announced excellent results in large trials, with more showing promise. And on 2 December, a vaccine made by drug giant Pfizer with German biotech firm BioNTech, became the first fully-tested immunization to be approved for emergency use.

That speed of advance “challenges our whole paradigm of what is possible in vaccine development”, says Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at the University of Florida in Gainesville. It’s tempting to hope that other vaccines might now be made on a comparable timescale. These are sorely needed: diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and pneumonia together kill millions of people a year, and researchers anticipate further lethal pandemics, too.

The COVID-19 experience will almost certainly change the future of vaccine science, says Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. “It shows how fast vaccine development can proceed when there is a true global emergency and sufficient resources,” he says. New ways of making vaccines, such as by using messenger RNA (mRNA), have been validated by the COVID-19 response, he adds. “It has shown that the development process can be accelerated substantially without compromising on safety.”

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