Coronavirus: Status of vaccine development

The general conditions for the development of a vaccine are very good. © Adobe Stock / LuckyStep

The coronavirus epidemic is an unprecedented challenge facing the people in Germany and around the world. The BMBF is nevertheless convinced that it is a challenge we can master. Society can rely on research being done globally and in Germany. Researchers are working at full speed, firstly to develop new treatment drugs. This includes drugs which are already used to treat other diseases or are close to approval. Secondly, scientists are working on developing a vaccine. A vaccine is of course the best way to push back against the virus. However, it takes a great deal of time to develop a vaccine.

According to a list issued by the WHO, 41 possible COVID-19 vaccine candidates are now being trialled. The list of institutes and companies developing a vaccine includes the German company CureVac based in Tübingen. In addition, the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) is part of a consortium headed by the Austrian-based company Themis.

The good news is that scientists are not starting from scratch in the case of coronavirus. They are already familiar with other coronaviruses such as MERS and SARS. This is why a diagnostic test was available relatively quickly – something whose value is hard to underestimate.

The international vaccine alliance CEPI is also driving vaccine research. Thanks to the lessons the world learned from the Ebola epidemic, Germany has recently added 140 million euros to the funding it is providing to CEPI’s research efforts. The Federal Research Ministry (BMBF) has publicised its activities in this regard. The CureVac company is one of eight institutes worldwide which CEPI has commissioned to develop a vaccine.

The general conditions for the development of a vaccine are therefore very good. However, nobody is able to predict yet exactly when a vaccine will be ready for the greater public. So, unfortunately, we must be patient but there is hope that a vaccine will be found.

A vaccine must be effective-- that is to say, it has to in fact protect against the disease. It must also be safe, which means it may not cause any harm to our health. That’s why a vaccine must undergo adequate testing.

According to information available to the BMBF, CureVac is currently doing animal tests of its first vaccine candidates. This marks the beginning of a lengthy clinical trial consisting of several phases. It is difficult to predict how this test phase will develop. Extreme caution is therefore advised when it comes to making predictions.

One thing is clear though: the sooner a vaccine is available for everyone, the better.