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Ask 2: What are the vaccines on the horizon for COVID-19?

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HOUSTON – A vaccine for coronavirus is important to watch because most experts say that’s when well be “safe” to return to normal.

While things are reopening right now, social distancing and masks make things look a lot different than before and for the safety of extended family some people are still limiting large gatherings. So, the question I get a lot is when can all that stuff go away? The answer, doctors tell me, when we have a vaccine.

On average, it takes 12-18 months to develop a vaccine. There’s nearly a dozen rapidly approaching the finish line and about 80 worldwide being researched. Here are a few examples:

Moderna

This week, we learned about the Moderna vaccine that is showing promise. Moderna is a young company (10 years old) and has never had a drug approved before so this would be the first. The optimism behind their vaccine comes from eight of the participants in their study showing early results of developing antibodies that could protect them from getting sick from COVID-19. However, a lot of scientists are skeptical about that because it’s very early into their study and eight is a very small number. Most scientific safety studies look at hundreds of people to determine potential bad reactions. Moderna says they’ll expand their study in July to 600 people.

How would they mass produce this?

Last week, a few experts said the United States is not prepared to start supplying millions of doses of any kind of vaccine. Even the syringes take time to develop. So, now companies are trying to ramp up this type of production in anticipation of a vaccine. One theory to lessen the burden on production is that it will be better to have more than one vaccine invented and produced.

Other companies that are making vaccines.

Oxford University says they plan to have 30 million doses of their vaccine ready by September. But they’re promising those will go to the UK first.

Baylor College of Medicine is working on a vaccine with UTMB, the say they started it originally to treat SARS many years ago and it never got the funding it needed to be studied. Recently, Tito’s vodka donated $1 million to their research.

Researchers at NYU have started clinical trials on a vaccine by Pfizer. The vaccine carries the genetic code known as "messenger RNA.” In theory, that’s supposed to tell your body what coronavirus looks like and prepare it to attack the virus if you ever get it. Only time will tell if that happens.

What kind of side effects could there be from vaccines?

That’s exactly what the researchers working on the trials with these vaccines want to find out. Before producing millions of doses and injecting millions of people, they want to know who is a good candidate for the drug. The only way to find that out is to conduct a lot of research with a lot of people, typically over an extended period of time to watch for the good and bad reactions with the drug.