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I understand that doctors and scientists are working hard to find a vaccine, but is there a reasonable chance that we will find one in the time that scientists and politicians are suggesting?

I also understand that we have no choice but to socially distance and bithe our time to find a vaccine if COVID is anything like the flu, but what if it proves to be as hard as finding a vaccine for HIV? The first HIV outbreak occurred in the 1980s, and if I'm correct we still don't have a vaccine for it yet (even though we do have treatment for it so people could just live their life with it).

So my question is with all this in mind, how could there be a chance that we will find a COVID vaccine in less time? Is it just optimism, or is there actually reason to believe the vaccine will be produced say by the beginning of 2022.

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    $\begingroup$ @David With all due respect, I don't agree. The tour that you linked me to does not suggest this question is off topic. In fact, this question first came to mind when I saw a Biology.SE question asking why a COVID vaccine wasn't quick and simple. I wouldn't understand why vaccine development wouldn't be considered "general questions about biological concepts" as described by the help center. I also have an inkling that you misunderstood the question as musings of future success for the vaccine candidates. Instead, I was asking why a COVID vaccine could possibly take less than four years. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Nov 5 '20 at 2:13
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    $\begingroup$ A question about a biological concept is of the type "what does the spleen do?", "How do eagles fly so high?", "How does insulin regulate metabolism?", "How does coronavirus enter cells?", "What determines an IgG v. an IgA response?" Your question is about commercial drug development, presumably in a regulatory context as I imagine you are aware that vaccines are already in use in China and Russia. It might or might not be on topic in SE Medical Sciences, although they may question the preparation for the question given the widespread coverage of the topic in serious news media. $\endgroup$ – David Nov 5 '20 at 11:57
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Expectations for accelerated vaccine development are based on two main points.

  1. Groups have been working on vaccines for SARS-CoV-1 since 2003, and much of that work is applicable to SARS-CoV-2 (the COVID-19 virus). Here is a review article discussing work on SARS-2 vaccines based on work on SARS and MERS. One example, transgenic mice are available that express the human version of ACE2, the host receptor protein that allows SARS coronaviruses to enter a cell. These mice allow vaccine testing that is much more informative than cell culture tests, and weren't developed until 2006-2007. SARS was eliminated in 2004, so we can estimate it would take at least two years to develop an animal model for COVID if it wasn't already available.

Here is a diagram from the linked review showing timelines for traditional vaccine development and the accelerated SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development: Stages of vaccine development are shown. Accelerated SARS-CoV-2 schedule skips the initial step, runs several steps in parallel, and reduced times for all steps

  1. Several pharma companies have developed "plug and play" vaccine platforms which allow rapid manufacture of vaccine candidates once a molecular target is known. In this case, the target is the 'S' glycoprotein. Once the sequence that encodes for this target is known, it can be inserted into the platform and produced quickly.

Here is another diagram from the same review describing some of these platforms: enter image description here

EDIT - I wanted to emphasize a third point: If you notice the "Production (at risk)" text in the accelerated development diagram, it means that pharma companies are producing large amounts of their vaccine candidate before testing is complete, and therefore running the risk that their warehouses full of product will be rendered worthless by bad outcomes in the clinical trials. Moderna had started production of their mRNA vaccine candidate by July 15 2020, so this gives them a several month head start if the trials turn out well.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you! Your response was concise and answered my question. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Nov 5 '20 at 2:17

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