The Full Story
Director of Family Health Services in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dr. Melody Ennis, says that global collaboration, through funding and exchange of knowledge and technology, were among the major factors that facilitated the speedy development of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines.
Speaking in an interview with JIS News, Dr. Ennis pointed out that it generally takes approximately 10 to 12 years for a vaccine to be developed, but because COVID-19 became a pandemic, governments and companies put resources towards prioritising vaccines, which expedited the process.
She said that, historically, developers would keep their information close, defending their turf, with none wanting to share information and each focused on “winning the prize” for being the first to complete the process.
Dr. Ennis indicated, however, that the need to develop the vaccine for the pandemic-causing virus was greater than individual gain, and with everyone working together towards a common goal, there was exchange of information.
The Family Health Director said that access to funding was also an important factor. She explained that previously, research and development companies had to go out and seek financial resources, but noted that for the COVID-19 vaccines, money came in from numerous sources as the world united to deal with the crisis.
Also critically, she noted, vaccine developers did not have to start from scratch, as there was already a lot of research done on similar coronaviruses called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
“Another important thing that we seem to always forget is the fact that this coronavirus family is not really new. It has been around a long time, over 10 years when we had MERS and SARS, so much of the preclinical trials had already taken place and, therefore, it was easy to develop this vaccine in the short space of time, which was just about a year,” Dr. Ennis pointed out.
In addition, she said that a different platform was utilised, which “made it easier and quicker to develop the vaccines”.
“We are accustomed to vaccines that utilise the killed virus of the weakened version. This platform that is being used… includes a viral vector platform or a genetic code, so you don’t have to purify the virus because the virus is not in the vaccine,” she pointed out.
The prevalence of the virus provided access to a large pool of infected persons in different parts of the world to participate in phase-three trails tested for efficacy and safety.
Dr. Ennis told JIS News that this phase of vaccine development would ordinarily take six to seven years while developers waited for persons to come into contact with the virus and be willing to participate in the trials.
She pointed out that if there were no pandemic, it would have been difficult to find such persons within a short time.
“That one factor alone cut off six years and that six years was cut down to about six weeks,” she said, noting that Pfizer and AstraZeneca were able to find more than 40,000 persons each across the world to participate in its phase-three trials.
“So with all of those things coming together, the vaccine development time was significantly cut,” she said.
The Family Health Director said it is important to note that while the process was speedy, none of the steps were skipped.
She told JIS News that each stage of trials must be passed for the next phase to be entered and that if the vaccine does not go through the required steps, the developer cannot get approval.