COVID-19 vaccine: Scientists credit collaboration, prior research for speedy development

No corners cut in rush to produce coronavirus vaccine, medical experts say

Sarah Schulte Image
Friday, December 11, 2020
COVID-19 vaccine: No corners cut in rush to production, medical experts say
It typically takes years for scientists to create vaccines. In this case, it took months. So how did it happen so fast?

CHICAGO (WLS) -- In less than a year, a COVID-19 vaccine is ready to go. For a process that typically takes several years, the speed of the vaccine is unprecedented.

"It's unprecedented in collaboration with pharmaceutical companies, with industry, with manufacturers, with government," said Dr. Gregory Huhn, vaccination coordinator for Cook County Health.

Collaboration combined with prior vaccine research helped develop a COVID-19 vaccine so quickly. UIC Infectious Disease Director Dr. Richard Novak said scientists were not starting from scratch: research from the 2003 SARS outbreak helped researchers understand how the coronavirus works.

"So that was a huge body of knowledge that was very easily transferable to this virus," Dr. Novak said.

In addition, getting the virus' genetic code from China in January allowed vaccine development to begin quickly.

"Once we knew the genetic code we were able to deploy new technology that's been in the works for at least 10 years, but not yet in a vaccine form called an MrRNA vaccine," Huhn said.

The new technology has been called a game changer in vaccine development. Companies were also able to recruit thousands of volunteers for their studies. The amount of trial participants at the same time was a first.

But, there is a concern among people reluctant to take the vaccine that corners were cut to develop it so quickly. Doctors and scientists say that is absolutely not true.

"I think the reputational risk to a company like Pfizer, if it turns out they cut corners to be the first in the market in the United States - that would be the end of Pfizer. You could never get your reputation back," said Dr. Jeffrey Kopin, with Northwestern Medicine.

Doctors want to make it clear to everyone that the FDA would never approve a vaccine unless it was safe and effective.