The global race to find a vaccine for the coronavirus

Published: Apr. 28, 2020 at 6:01 PM EDT
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From Toyko to Quebec, from Iowa to New Orleans to Australia, scientists are in a race to come up with a vaccine to end the scourge of COVID-19. More than 80 vaccine developers in all are involved, according to the World Health Organization.

So far, seven vaccines are in human trials.

On March 16, a study volunteer was vaccinated in Seattle as part of a trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

Two other vaccine companies followed: one Chinese and one American.

Then researchers at Oxford University in England vaccinated their first patient on April 23.

"What we're doing with any vaccine is trying to trick the immune system into thinking that there's a serious infection here that the immune system needs to respond to," said Sara Gilbert of Oxford University.

Different vaccines work in different ways, says Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

"We're using everything from genetic immunization with RNA and DNA vaccines, viral vectors, live attenuated proteins, nanoparticles, etc..." Fauci said.

And that's a good thing, says Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine expert at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

"By having that diverse array of different technologies, it increases the likelihood that you'll get one or two or three that will reach the finish line," Hotez said.

That's right; most of these vaccines likely won't work. And those that do will take a long time to be tested.

"Dr. Fauci has charged us with doing this in a year to 18 months," Hotez said. "That would be a world record, and we're trying our best."

Hotez, who is also working on a vaccine, thinks it will take significantly longer than that to complete human trials.

Researchers spend many months giving vaccines to their human study subjects to make sure they're safe and effective.

With dozens of companies developing vaccines, it's possible some might be overly optimistic.

"You may think they're talking to the general public, but what they're really doing is talking to their shareholders and investors. So try to stay calm," Hotez said. "You want to be able to kind of distance yourself from a lot of the hype."

Settle in for a long road and remember...

"We're dealing with an unprecedented global health problem," Hotez said. "If we don't get control of it. We will never get back to normal."