The vaccine race has never been faster

The vaccine race has never been faster

Over 100 projects in the running, a dozen clinical trials already underway and the hope of having an effective vaccine within a few months: never has vaccine research been so massive and rapid .

© Metro

Review of the latest data and issues related to the development of vaccines against the SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus which caused the Covid-19 pandemic and caused the death of nearly 300,000 people.

“A global imperative”

“Rapid development of a vaccine to prevent Covid-19 is a global imperative” : Like other experts, American Barney S. Graham of the Center for Vaccine Research (US National Institutes of Health, NIH) considers the battle for vaccines in the planet’s war against Covid-19 crucial.

International officials such as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres are also convinced: a safe and effective vaccine would be “The only tool allowing a return of the world to a feeling of normality”. he “Would save millions of lives” and would save “Countless billions of dollars”, he said in April.

Over 100 projects in the running

A sign of the global interest in vaccines from both a health and economic point of view, the number of vaccine projects is constantly increasing.

The World Health Organization (WHO) listed 76 at the end of April, five of which were in clinical trials. It now has 110 of which eight are on trial (May 11 update).

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine lists, on a specific website, no less than 157 anti-Covid vaccine projects, 11 of which are already in clinical trials.

Different approaches

WHO classifies the hundreds of ongoing projects in eight different categories, which correspond to types of proven or, conversely, experimental vaccines.

These are the classic type vaccines “Living attenuated” or “Inactivated”, so-called vaccines “Sub-units” protein-based (presenting an antigen to the immune system, without virus particles).

These are still so-called vaccine projects “Viral vector”, which use state-of-the-art techniques to make viruses whose sole purpose is to stimulate an immune response in humans.

Among the projects are also vaccines “DNA” or “To RNA” which are experimental products using pieces of modified genetic material.

Failure always possible

The multiplicity of avenues taken to obtain a Covid-19 vaccine is a very positive point regarding the chances of final success.

“The fact that there are many different types of vaccines gives hope that something works and gives protection to humans”, comments French virologist Marie-Paule Kieny.

But “The road to an effective vaccine is steep and only a handful of vaccines can succeed”, tempered British researcher Sarah Caddy of the Wellcome Trust and the University of Cambridge.

Is it impossible to never succeed in developing an effective vaccine? “In research, nothing is excluded”, answers the scientific director of the Institut Pasteur Christophe d’Enfer.

“You know the example of HIV where more than 30 years after its discovery there is still no vaccine” against AIDS, he stressed in late April, before an information mission to the National Assembly.

Unprecedented acceleration

In this context, the announcement by Sinovac Biotech, one of the four Chinese laboratories authorized for clinical trials, that it was ready to produce 100 million doses of vaccine per year under the trade name “Coronavac” may seem premature, its vaccine that has not been shown to be effective or even safe.

But he’s not the only one to accelerate the pace: the American pharmaceutical laboratory Pfizer already indicates that it expects to produce 10 to 20 million doses of experimental vaccine by the end of the year.

In France, the Institut Pasteur will start clinical trials for its most advanced vaccine project in July and expects initial results in October, according to coordinator Christiane Gerke.

“Vaccine development is usually measured in decades, so having vaccines approved and available for large-scale distribution by the end of 2020 or even 2021 would be unheard of”, says Barney S. Graham.

Fair distribution?

In the event of rapid positive results for the first vaccines, the question of the use and availability of these new products will immediately arise.

“The big question is how these vaccines will be used. Everyone is afraid of an appropriation by the countries which would have set up the production capacities on their soil most quickly “, comments on France Info Marie-Paule Kieny radio.

WHO organized an international meeting at the end of April, in particular to ensure that “Equitable distribution of vaccines”. This teleconference brought together European heads of state, but neither the United States nor China was represented.

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