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Six months into the pandemic, the race to develop a vaccine for novel coronavirus that has killed over 760,000 people globally, is heating up. Over 170 researchers are rushing to develop the much-needed vaccine.

What is the progress? Out of the 170 plus candidates for the vaccine development that kicked off work once China released the genome of the COVID-19 virus in January 2020. Vaccine approval generally takes years and the step-by-step approach moves from preclinical stage of testing on animals to Phase 1 of testing on small group of people, to Phase 2 of testing on a few hundred, to Phase 3 of testing on a few thousands. However, in COVID-19 case, these steps are progressing over months and are also overlapping. What might seem taking a long time is much faster than the time taken to develop other vaccines on average.

Around 135-139 vaccines are not yet in human trial i.e. they are in pre-clinical stage, while 7 are in phase 3 of human trial; while there are no vaccines approved for general use so far, 2 vaccines are approved for early or limited use: One is by a Chinese company CanSino Biologics for the use on Chinese military and the other is by Gamaleya Research Institute, Russia. Besides these two, the promising contenders in phase 3 include the vaccine being developed by University of Oxford/AstraZeneca, which is in a combined phase 2 and 3 trial in the UK and has recently gone into phase 3 trials in South Africa and Brazil. Others include by American biotech company Moderna in partnership with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), Pfizer partnering with German BioNTech; and Sinovac China that has entered Phase 3 trials in Brazil. Another vaccine candidate developed by the China National Pharmaceutical Group, Sinopharm is reportedly starting Phase1 trials in Pakistan soon.

Even if the vaccine is developed by late 2021 or 12-18 months from now as highlighted by WHO, the vaccine would break all records and would be the first vaccine to be developed in such a short period of time. Of the notable vaccines, the journey to develop vaccines has been a marathon rather than a race where only measles vaccine was developed in the shortest time of 4 years. But as much as the end of COVID-19 is dependent on a successful vaccine, the hastened approach has also raised qualms on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. The Russian vaccine approved by Putin has just passed Phase 1 of the trials and is set to be inoculated starting August 2020. Similarly, the Chinese vaccine has been authorized for its military before Phase 3 trial begin.