Developing A SARS_CoV_2 Vaccine, Part 1

Apr 22, 2020

Medical experts call for testing and containment as states slowly open for business. But the long-term defense  against a viral pandemic requires the development of a preventive vaccine.

“So once we can eventually treat it, just like the influenza we have antivirals that you can take that treat it. But if you want to prevent it, you get the vaccine," said Rich Larkin, the Immunization Program Manager for the Utah Department of Health.

Alhough development of a vaccine is a key factor in the successful long-term management of the coronavirus, experts say it may take another year or longer. Why is that?

According to Dr. Bart Tarbet, a Research Associate Professor at the Institute for Anti-Viral Research at Utah State University, it’s important to understand there are two processes in providing a vaccine for the public – first, development of a vaccine that is both safe and effective, and second – a rapid, approved manufacturing process to produce enough vaccine to meet the need. An example of how this works is with the annual influenza vaccine.

“Actually, this time of year, the World Health Organization is looking at results data from all the reference laboratories around the world that have been testing for influenza. And they are making a prediction on what we'll need next fall. Why they're doing it now is to give the manufacturing companies six to eight months lead time to now make those millions of doses that are necessary,” Tarbet said.

Because of the lead time, there can be a mismatch due to mutations in the influenza virus that occur in June in the southern hemisphere, where it is winter and flu season.

“So that even though it's a different virus isolate used for vaccine manufacturing, the entire manufacturing process is identical. So, the FDA allows that to be fast tracked, meaning if it meets certain quality standards, it just can be licensed,” Tarbet said. “A brand, new vaccine, okay, like this one will be, has…more regulatory checkmarks to meet because it hasn't been shown to be effective before.”

But regardless of this fact, the coronavirus vaccine is happening in a rapid manufacturing timeframe.

Tarbet says there are at least eight different organizations – private companies, governments and academic institutions, currently involved in researching a SARS_CoV_2 vaccine, including two companies in the United States who are actively pursuing vaccine trials.

"Vaccine trials can even be can be very long term, because they have to vaccinate people and then in that same geographical area, in which they'd been vaccinated and looking for other people who have not been vaccinated,” Tarbet said.