At the time of writing, the number of cases of COVID-19 worldwide is approaching 2 million and about one-third of humanity is under some type of lockdown to curb the further spread of the disease, and prevent the world's health systems from being overwhelmed. A vaccine is sorely needed and many organizations are putting in incredible effort to produce such a vaccine for a virus that was unknown to us just five months ago.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a list of 70 vaccines currently in development with 67 in preclinical evaluation and three already being tested in clinical trials. Of the latter group, two are currently in Phase I, which means the safety of the candidate vaccine is being assessed and the third has already moved onto Phase II, testing the efficacy of the vaccine. The next step would be a phase III trial where the vaccine is tested on a much larger group of people.
These steps require time and caution, and it is crucial that no corners are cut, despite the urgency. The WHO Research and Development (R&D) Blueprint has been activated since early January to accelerate the development of one or more vaccines for the deadly virus, as well as better diagnostic tools and effective treatments: the three crucial elements to protecting as many people as possible from the disease in the long term.
The WHO has put together a group of experts from all over the world – ranging from large organizations to small biotech companies, scientists, physicians, manufacturers, academics, and nonprofits – creating an international collaboration whose goal is to strengthen the fight against COVID-19 by sharing all the knowledge being collected on the virus. This will hopefully streamline the process and get us to a vaccine more quickly.
“While a vaccine for general use takes time to develop, a vaccine may ultimately be instrumental in controlling this worldwide pandemic. In the interim, we applaud the implementation of community intervention measures that reduce spread of the virus and protect people, including vulnerable populations, and pledge to use the time gained by the widespread adoption of such measures to develop a vaccine as rapidly as possible,” the group declared in a statement.