At least 165 vaccines for the novel Coronavirus were being produced worldwide according to the latest World Health Organization list. There may be more, but still in the early stages, and WHO is not naming them. Those mentioned have all at least reached the stage of pre-clinical trials. Some of them are at the final stage of human development, perhaps only a few months away from entering the market (a Russian vaccine expects to be ready in weeks, if not days), while several others are only getting into animal research, and maybe a few years away from being ready.
But why do so many vaccines evolve? Will we need too many Vaccines for Coronavirus? Wouldn’t one suffice? Wouldn’t the first to enter the market make redundant others? Are we not then wasting vast amounts of money and energy in duplicating efforts? Shouldn’t we work together to create only one successful vaccine, and focus our efforts to make it available to everyone?
Here are some possible answers.
Missing vaccines. Production of the vaccines has a very poor success rate. In the background of the current pandemic, as so many companies and research laboratories are scrambling to manufacture a vaccine, it might not be obvious that vaccine production is an extremely complex, time-consuming, resource-intensive operation. In addition, it’s also a very risky operation. Very poor probability of success.
Of the 100 that are considered possible candidates in the research laboratories, only 20 make it to the stage of pre-clinical trials. This means that almost 80 per cent of the applicants are not even deemed appropriate for animal research. Instead, for clinical testing, no more than five of the initial lot is accepted, and not more than one or two of these are likely to be approved for general use. The 165 candidates identified in the WHO survey have all completed at least the pre-clinical trial process in the current context.
And, there are at least 23 in clinical trials. These won’t all be good. Going by past experience, in pre-clinical trials only about one-fourth of the applicants will be considered worthy of entering human trials. That would weed out the others. While it was just a matter of a few months before some of the leading candidates, such as the one being produced by Oxford University, will be available on the market, the truth is very different. For those who are in the final stages of clinical trials are not expected to succeed, despite promising findings from previous stages.
In reality, the hardest part of the study is phase-III trials in which the candidate vaccine is tested for its ability to avoid in real-life conditions (outside laboratory condition) infection in the human body. These vaccines will also lose out if they fail to effectively prevent the disease. Countries with strong regulatory frameworks are unlikely to lower their bar solely due to the emergency that prevails. The vaccine’s efficacy in phase III trials is critical. Basically, we ‘re not looking at hundreds of Coronavirus vaccines. Might only succeed five or six. It too can be considered a very successful rate of success.
Given the current situation in which everyone needs to get their hands on the vaccine as soon as possible, it is unlikely that one vaccine will satisfy the immediate global demand. There are already signs that certain countries can end up with a majority of the new vaccines, while the others are left to wait until they are available later. For example, the United States has already signed billion-dollar deals with several leading candidates, booking hundreds of millions of doses in advance. This could potentially deprive other countries of access to vaccines, especially in the developed and poor world.
Of this reason, many countries have started their own vaccine production initiatives. Countries like Egypt, Thailand, Nigeria and Argentina are all in the race, not necessarily renowned for vaccine studies. And if they are a little late, they would have control over the production and delivery of those vaccines if they were successful. There is another explanation of why they will need several vaccines. As the Adar Poonawala of the Serum Institute has also pointed out, there is no assurance that the first vaccine will be the most effective.
Such vaccines are being produced in haste, and there is every possibility that the ones that come later are able to learn from the experiences of the earlier ones, and make changes to become more successful. Therefore, the global demand for vaccines will be such that multiple vaccines could easily absorb the cost of development.