Coronavirus vaccine: What’s happening now and everything you need to know

September 14, 2020 John Mendoza No Comments


Experts are hopeful that a vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus will become available sooner rather than later.

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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Will we have a coronavirus vaccine before the Nov. 3 general election? President Donald Trump and vaccine developer Pfizer seem to think so, but the World Health Organization disagrees. WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a United Nations briefing in Geneva, “we are really not expecting to see widespread vaccination until the middle of next year.” So, why has the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified all 50 states and several large US cities to be ready to distribute a vaccine by late October? The answer, some say, comes down to politics.

Political pressure to approve a vaccine before Election Day has become so great, it’s prompted nine of the most prominent biopharmaceutical companies currently working on a COVID-19 vaccine to sign a letter pledging to fully vet their experimental drugs before asking for government approval. And while that may seem like a foregone conclusion, Russia has already approved a vaccine way before it’s been thoroughly tested, and China has started administering a vaccine to military and healthcare workers despite incomplete testing.

Currently, there are seven vaccine candidates being tested in the US, three of which are nearing the final stages needed for Food and Drug Administration approval. Considering SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — was only discovered eight months ago, the progress is actually happening at a faster clip than ever before in the history of infectious disease, despite Trump’s claim that vaccine development is being intentionally stifled (vaccines take, on average, about 10.7 years to develop).

Here, we survey the current landscape for a developing coronavirus vaccine. This article updates frequently and is intended to be a general overview, not a source of medical advice. If you’re seeking more information about coronavirus testing, here’s how to find a testing site near you.

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Important COVID-19 vaccine news 

A major coronavirus vaccine trial has been put on hold and the start of US testing delayed while scientists investigate whether a case of spinal inflammation in one volunteer was related to the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. 

Pfizer and BioNTech believe they can have a coronavirus vaccine ready for approval by October or November, according to BioNTech cofounder and CEO Ugur Sahin.

“It’s unlikely we’ll have a definitive answer” by the Nov. 3 election, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease official.

Most people in the US won’t be able to get a vaccine until 2021, even if one or more are approved before the end of 2020, according to an early draft of a possible vaccination plan released in August by the National Academy of Sciences.

Mexico could have its own coronavirus vaccine by spring, according to a researcher charged with coordinating the country’s efforts, who said the drug will go through a full three-phase vetting process before being approved.

New York state’s coronavirus positivity rate has dropped to 1% for 30 straight days after having knocked down one of the most severe outbreaks in the entire country.

A nationwide shortage of dry ice might slow coronavirus vaccine distribution, according to Boston’s NPR news station, as some vaccine candidates require sub-zero temperatures during storage.


An effective coronavirus vaccine might be the only way to bring a stop to preventative measures, like social distancing and face masks.

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COVID vaccine development is getting faster

Several acceleration efforts are currently underway, like the White House’s Operation Warp Speed, which is meant to cut through regulatory red tape to speed up vaccine development and be ready to distribute vaccines as soon as they receive FDA approval. So far, the US government has pledged over $10 billion to several vaccine manufacturers to secure a total of 800 million vaccine doses.

Vaccines typically take about 10 to 15 years to develop and approve, through four phases that include human trials. But with Operation Warp Speed, rather than submitting all sections of the application after all four phases are done, approved vaccine projects can submit data to the FDA bit by bit. 

Meanwhile, the program is also financially backing efforts to start manufacturing doses while clinical trials are still ongoing. That means if and when those vaccines do get approved, there will already be a store of doses ready to distribute nationally. “I would hope that by the time we get well into the second half of 2021 that the companies will have delivered the hundreds of millions of doses they have promised,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Forbes in August.


Experts say recent surges in coronavirus cases aren’t merely the result of the US doing more testing, as a higher percentage of those tested are coming up positive compared to earlier stages of the pandemic.

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Promising coronavirus vaccines from UK, US, China

Here’s a quick look at some of the frontrunners in the race to find a vaccine for COVID-19, including where the vaccines are being developed, where they are on testing them, and when scientists think they might be ready for widespread distribution, if known.

Oxford University/AstraZeneca (UK): AstraZeneca has paused testing of its vaccine, which it had begun on 100,000 human volunteers in at least three countries and was preparing to begin in the US. Lead researcher Dr. Sarah Gilbert had initially said they’re aiming for a fall 2020 release, which may now be delayed. However, UK Health Minister Matt Hancock has said such a pause is “not necessarily” a setback.

Moderna (US): An apparent scuffle with government regulators delayed large-scale human testing, but Moderna’s CEO has told Barron’s he still expects the company will know by Thanksgiving if the vaccine is safe and effective and should be able to distribute it in early 2021 if it is.

Pfizer (US): Although its four COVID-19 vaccine candidates are still in early-stage human trials, two of them have been fast-tracked by the FDA. Pfizer’s chief business officer told the US Congress the company may be ready to apply for FDA approval by October.

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SinoVac (China): Currently testing its vaccine on about 10,000 human volunteers in China and about 9,000 in Brazil and is set to begin testing on about 1,900 test subjects in Indonesia soon. CEO of BioPharma, SinoVac’s Indonesian partner, has said he expects the vaccine to be ready by early 2021.

SinoPharm (China): Currently testing about 15,000 volunteers in the Middle East in a trial the state-owned company expects to last three to six months. Early results suggest the drug is safe and at least somewhat effective. SinoPharm recently built a second facility to manufacture the vaccine, doubling its capacity to about 200 million doses per year.

CanSino Biologics (China): Set to begin large-scale human trials this summer, CanSino’s vaccine has already been approved for the Chinese military. The vaccine is based on a modified common cold virus, which some experts warn could make it less effective than other vaccine efforts.


Wearing a face mask remains the surest way of preventing transmission of the coronavirus.

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Will there be just one vaccine for everyone?

We probably won’t know until next year, but Fauci has suggested it might require several different vaccines made and distributed by different labs to bring an end to the pandemic, in a paper published May 11 in the journal Science.

What happens if we never find a coronavirus vaccine?

Coronaviruses are a large class of viruses and so far there are no vaccines for any of them. While there are promising early results, there’s no guarantee of a vaccine by 2021. Statistically, only about 6% of vaccine candidates ever make it through to market, according to a Reuters special report.

Early evidence suggests that the coronavirus doesn’t appear to mutate as quickly or often as the flu, and it’s thought that the virus has not yet mutated significantly enough to disrupt vaccine development — although our knowledge could change.


Most experts expect a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, by 2021.

James Martin/CNET

The longer we go without a vaccine, the more likely focus will shift toward treatments, such as the experimental antiviral drug remdesivir, which has reportedly shown promising results, and dexamethasone, a steroid that doctors say increases survival rates among the most serious cases. With effective therapeutic treatments, many viruses that used to be fatal are no longer death sentences. Patients with HIV, for example, can now expect to enjoy the same life expectancy as non-HIV-positive individuals, thanks to tremendous advances in treatment. 

Eventually, the global population may reach the 60% to 70% rate required for herd immunity to protect those who aren’t immune, which is, ultimately, the goal of a vaccine.

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