Special Reports – Global Edition
COVID Vaccines

Quest for a vaccine: A scientific race without parallel

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an unprecedented spurt in global research collaboration in the quest to find a vaccine. Over three weeks, University World News examines the phenomenon that has so far allowed for more than 200 clinical trials to be launched within months of the virus spreading across borders.
PHOTO In the United States there is unprecedented political pressure on the development of the ‘Operation Warp Speed’ programme, as US President Donald Trump is hoping a vaccine will emerge before the presidential elections on 3 November. But university leaders and researchers warn of risks to safety and trust.
PHOTO The University of Oxford has resumed its late-stage clinical trial of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate in the United Kingdom that was halted recently due to a volunteer recipient suffering an unexplained illness. But its trial in the United States has not yet been cleared to resume.
China is intent on rolling out its experimental coronavirus vaccines in the hope of securing a ‘first mover’ advantage and using vaccines as a diplomatic tool to cement relationships with grateful countries. But academics have expressed concerns on transparency, rushed trials and short cuts.
The United States, China and Japan are among countries impeding fair access to a vaccine while the European Commission, leading European Union members, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia are doing more than others to aid progress, according to a global scorecard produced by the ONE Campaign.
PHOTO Some leading nationalist-leaning nations are eschewing international collaboration on developing a vaccine, but the scientific community thrives on it and our best chance for successful interventions to address COVID-19 lies with effective research translation across borders, as the COVAX programme seeks to demonstrate.
PHOTO Artificial intelligence is accelerating progress on screening, identifying and researching promising vaccine candidates against COVID-19. But the usefulness of AI tools hinges on the quality of data at a time when the need for speed in developing vaccines can jeopardise that quality, experts say.
Nearly 30 COVID-19 vaccine candidates are under development by both industry and academia in India. They are in different stages of pre-clinical and clinical development, but three are at an advanced stage of Phase I, II or III trials and four are at an advanced pre-clinical development stage.
Bangladeshi universities and research organisations are working on late-stage human trials of a COVID-19 vaccine developed and paid for by Chinese company Sinovac Biotech Ltd. But some immunologists have raised ethical issues about the trial which will test the vaccine candidate’s efficacy and safety.
PHOTO The coronavirus pandemic has brought a huge flurry of global scientific activity, involving collaboration on a scale barely matched during the response to HIV/Aids, open access to data, data sharing at an unprecedented pace and rising public appreciation of the role of science.
PHOTO The German government is pumping up to €750 million (US$885 million) into research by three domestic pharmaceutical firms in an effort to step up the race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, which the Federal Institute for Vaccines and Biomedicines says could be approved and available by 2021.
The elderly are at greatest risk of dying from COVID-19, worldwide data shows, and are among the most difficult sections of the population to protect with vaccines. But the elevated risk of infection and inflammation make it challenging to include them in vaccine trials.
The intensified search for a vaccine against COVID-19, backed by ballooning public financial support since March, has pushed vaccine research to the top of collaborative medical and R&D research projects between Japanese universities, drug companies and the government in Japan.
Indonesia has clinched a deal with Chinese firm Sinovac Biotech for CoronaVac, which has reached stage III human trials. But it is wary of overreliance on drug imports and is trying to develop its own vaccine, to cover most of its 270 million population.