Why we shouldn't pin our hopes on a coronavirus vaccine

Creating a vaccine is a slow, arduous process. Vaccines go through multiple stages of development – from discovery to animal trials all the way through to multiple different human trials. And that’s not including all the regulatory hoops the vaccine needs to pass through to reach the market. These final steps often create the bottlenecks of vaccine development. Registration, regulatory approval and large-scale manufacturing take time.

So, are the timescales that CEPI and the other biotech firms gunning for realistic? “To make a vaccine conventionally – to test it and actually get it on the market – can take a decade, and has done,” explains Nicola Stonehouse, professor in molecular virology at the University of Leeds. “In fact, it’s taken several decades for some vaccines in the past.”

The Ebola vaccine is a good example of the long path that vaccine development is forced to travel down. The disease had been on the radar of authorities and scientists since 1976, yet when it hit Western Africa on a devastating scale in early 2014, a vaccine had not yet been developed. Biotech companies decided to fast-track the path to a vaccine at the height of the outbreak.