Developing a vaccine for the coronavirus is an exercise in balance.
Lean too far to one side and you end up with an out-of-control pandemic. Lean too far to the other and you've got a dangerous vaccine that does more harm than good.
This knife's edge is what scientists and medical professionals around the world are walking on. The vaccine needs to be developed fast enough to minimise the financial, personal and fatal effects of the pandemic, but not so fast that the solution itself becomes a problem.
How will they balance this?
When is it going be ready?
Will it be safe?
These are the questions being asked at the moment. In this article, we'll try to provide an answer.
At the time of writing, there are approximately 150 SARS-CoV2 vaccines being developed around the world. They are being created by a variety of experts with different approaches and methods, all with the unified goal of ending the pandemic.
Usually a vaccine will take around 10-15 years to develop, but Margie Danchin, a vaccine researcher at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, estimates that we'll be seeing a vaccine for COVID-19 as early as the next nine to eighteen months.
A big reason for the tenfold decrease in development time is the sheer amount of resources being poured into the endeavour. But even with the titanic backing, time is still a consideration. The meticulous human trials are actually the main reason the vaccine has taken as long as it has.
This is not to say that all vaccines are being developed so carefully. Russia, in a dangerous gamble, has decided to skip the third and most thourough phase of testing and propel their vaccine straight to widespread usage.
The third phase of testing is when the vaccine is trialled on thousands of human volunteers to determine it's potency, side effects and safety. Bypassing this phase could mean the vaccine will produce unintended and awful side effects in the population at large.
This is why Russia's decision to bypass it has been so heavily critiqued. It's also why Oxford's vaccine, which Australia has secured as a candidate, is so exciting; it's well into it's third phase of testing and is producing exceptionally good results.
So for now, we can be assured that the most likely vaccine candidate for Australia is balancing the risks well, and can be expected within the next year or two.
So can we be confident the vaccine with be safe?
Yes, but with a caveat.
When we talk about the vaccine being 'safe' that doesn’t mean free from side effects, it just means that it will protect you from the virus and isn't going to make you worse than if you'd never had it. Temporary headaches, fevers and muscle pains are all potential consequences of the vaccine, but that doesn't make the vaccine dangerous. It's still safe, and still important.
It's important to remember that while the negative consequences of a vaccine can be cured with a Panadol, the side effects of a pandemic cannot.
Stay safe, and stay hopeful.