A COVID-19 vaccine may not be available in Ireland for another year and a half, experts have warned.
The Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) noted that while progress is being made, it could be as late as October 2021 before a vaccine is developed, tested, approved, and manufactured.
The IPHA said, “Vaccines take time to develop – years, if not decades. But, due to the urgency of the pandemic, the timetable is being shortened.
“But scientists know that there can be no short-cuts on the testing needed to ensure a vaccine, or a treatment, is safe and effective.”
Several medicines to treat the virus are already in various stages of development while some are even in the late phase of clinical trials.
Ultimately the IPHA said a vaccine is the only way to effectively protect the world’s population against any further waves of the deadly coronavirus.
Ireland, like many nations around the world, is contributing to the development of a vaccine or treatment, with figures in the pharmaceutical industry working in partnership with government officials, academics, health authorities, patient advocacy groups, and charities in a coordinated response.
Jon Barbour, director of Medical Affairs with pharmaceutical giant GSK Ireland, said, “The great challenge in the Covid-19 pandemic is to develop an effective vaccine quickly.
“The good news is that this is the first time in history that there has been such a concerted global effort and collaboration between pharmaceutical companies and research organizations to find a specific vaccine.
“According to the latest data from the World Health Organization, there are three vaccine candidates in clinical evaluation and at least 67 vaccine candidates in preclinical evaluation globally.”
GSK is currently collaborating with fellow pharmaceutical firm Sanofi on an adjuvanted Covid-19 vaccine designed to promote a better immune response to the virus.
Adjuvants can also reduce the amount of a virus required to produce a vaccine.
However, Barbour warned that vaccine development is a “lengthy, complex process” and there are no shortcuts.
“Once a vaccine has come through the clinical trial process, the next challenge will be scaling up manufacturing to produce millions of doses which will require a partnership approach between pharmaceutical manufacturers that have the expertise and resources to produce vaccines to meet global need,” he said.
Despite his calls for patience, several other potential vaccines are already heading towards clinical trials.
Johnson & Johnson is to begin human clinical trials on a vaccine this September, with a view to have a several batches available for emergency uses as early as next year.
Pfizer is also Germany’s BioNTech to co-develop a potential vaccine while the British American Tobacco Company is also working on a possible solution.
The most advanced effort is taking place at the University of Oxford, where the first human trials for a Covid-19 vaccine began last week.
Professor Adrian Hill, an Irish scientist who has worked on Ebola and malaria vaccines, is heading up the Oxford University Covid-19 vaccine effort which The New York Times says is currently the leader in the search for a workable vaccine.
“In the worldwide race for a vaccine to stop the coronavirus, the laboratory sprinting fastest is at Oxford University,” the Times reports.
Hill and Oxford researchers had already been working on coronavirus type vaccines and just very recently monkey trials showed the Oxford vaccine protected the animals from Covid-19.
Dublin-born Hill 61, head of the Jenner Institute in Oxford and Professor of Human Genetics “ developed a fascination with malaria and other tropical diseases as a medical student in Dublin in the early 1980s when he visited an uncle who was a priest working in a hospital during the civil war in what is now Zimbabwe.