The new coronavirus has now infected more than 20 million people around the world: a number that has increased by 100 percent in about six weeks. The number of deaths linked to the virus has also increased to more than 745,000.
Countries are taking strong measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. And scientists and drug makers are racing to develop a vaccine against the disease.
On August 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his country had become the first to approve a vaccine against COVID-19.
The announcement came less than two months after the start of human testing of the vaccine with less than 100 people. The Gamaleya Institute in Moscow developed the vaccine. However, it has not yet completed Phase 3 tests involving a large group of volunteers. Alexander Gintsburg, head of the Gamaleya Institute, said that Russia will start its vaccine program while Phase 3 tests continue.
Some Western scientists are questioning whether the fast approval, without testing a large group of people, will lead to a safe vaccine.
Jonathan Ball is a Professor of Molecular Virology at the University of Nottingham. He said: “Vaccine candidates go through a series of trials to ensure that they are safe and also that they work.” He noted that any COVID-19 vaccine will need to protect high-risk groups of people, those who are older or with existing health conditions.
When will we know a vaccine works?
The World Health Organization says more than 100 possible vaccines are being developed to protect against COVID-19. But only six possible vaccines are currently in Phase 3 trials. Each trial will last for several months and include up to 30,000 people.
One vaccine candidate under Phase 3 trial is from Britain’s University of Oxford and drug maker AstraZeneca. Sarah Gilbert, a leading scientist in the study, told BBC Radio that it is possible the team will have a vaccine by the end of the year.
Dr. Anthony Fauci is the top U.S. infectious diseases expert. He told Reuters recently that a trial by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health could produce results by November or December. Other efforts like the joint study from U.S.-based drug maker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech will come later.
Some experts are not sure whether Phase 3 trials can be completed that soon. The trials must study possible side effects of the vaccines on different groups of people and they must include thousands of people.
Peter Hotez of Baylor College of Medicine in Texas said that collecting enough data to prove a vaccine is safe for the world could take until the middle of 2021.
When will the shots be ready?
Several drug makers are building manufacturing capacity to prepare for vaccine production. The U.S. government has provided billions of dollars to the companies under a program called “Operation Warp Speed.”
Fauci said he expects “tens of millions” of doses of vaccine to be available in early 2021. And that more than a billion will be ready by the end of next year.
Several companies, including Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer say they each expect to make more than 1 billion doses next year. That could mean several billion will be available by the end of 2021.
When can I get it?
The first supplies of vaccine will go to people in developed nations. Countries including Canada, Japan, Britain, and the United States have made agreements with drug makers to produce vaccines for their citizens.
The British government said that if the University of Oxford vaccine proves effective, the first 30 million doses would be for Britons. Separately, AstraZeneca signed deals to make at least 300 million doses available for the U.S. and another 400 million for European Union members.
The first shots will likely go to people who work in industries like healthcare or those who are at greatest health risk from the virus.
When will the rest of the world get it?
The wait time for COVID-19 vaccines will likely be longer for people in developing countries, which do not have early supply deals.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is pushing for vaccine research to be shared between countries. He said, “Nobody should be pushed to the back of the vaccine queue because of where they live or what they earn.”
One of the efforts to ensure developing countries will get COVID-19 vaccines comes from the vaccine alliance Gavi.
Seth Berkley, the head of Gavi, said, “One thing that has been made all too clear … is that this disease does not respect borders, which is why this global problem requires a global solution.”
The alliance and its partners signed an agreement with AstraZeneca for 400 million doses. The company says it will make the vaccine available at no profit during the pandemic. And it has also given permission to India’s Serum Institute to produce another 1 billion doses.
What about a Chinese vaccine?
China has at least three different vaccines in Phase 3 human trials, including government-run Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and Beijing Institute of Biological Products and drug maker Sinovac.
The Chinese government has approved some experimental vaccines to be used on some patients outside of the trials. But they are unlikely to be available in Western countries any time soon. Western health officials would need to study the results of the trials before approving any treatment.
At a recent meeting with African leaders, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that African countries would be among the first to be helped with a vaccine developed by China. But he offered no other information.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Hai Do wrote this report for VOA Learning English with additional reporting from Reuters, the Associated Press and VOA. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
trial –n. a test of the quality, effectiveness or safety of something like a medicine or treatment
capacity –n. the ability to produce a certain amount of something within a certain time
dose –n. the amount of medicine or treatment needed to be taken at one time to get the correct result
queue –n. a line of things or people that are waiting to move forward
global –adj. something that involves the entire world
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