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Coronavirus vaccine updates: How long until it will be ready? Here’s what experts say

This 2017 photo shows laboratory equipment sitting on shelves at the Moderna Therapeutics facility in Cambridge, Mass.
This 2017 photo shows laboratory equipment sitting on shelves at the Moderna Therapeutics facility in Cambridge, Mass.Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg

Vaccines teach the body’s immune system to recognize and battle viruses and bacteria. They’re one of the most effective ways to prevent disease. Work is underway on a coronavirus vaccine, but you won’t feel the sting of one in your arm anytime soon, experts say.

Here’s a quick roundup of the situation, based on Globe wire, STAT, and major media reports:

Trump’s team is trying to paint a positive picture ...

Larry Kudlow, President Trump’s director of the National Economic Council, said Tuesday that drug companies are “probably coming up with a vaccine in much shorter time than people realize."

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The controversial, divisive Republican president himself said at a news conference Wednesday that a vaccine was being “rapidly” developed. During a press conference in India the day before, he told reporters that America was “very close” to a vaccine.

But the government’s own experts say it will take a while

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said at the same news conference Wednesday that a potential vaccine is in rapid development but that a final product is at least a year to 18 months away — if all goes well.

Peter Marks, the director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told STAT that getting a vaccine ready for pivotal testing is going to take more than just a few months, he said.

“I do have to be honest that for the vaccines, the idea that there’s going to be a vaccine that will really be able to be used in a large patient population and a large clinical trial, in the very near future, as in the next few months, I think that’s just not likely,” Marks said.

Here’s why

Dr. Kathryn Stephenson, a Harvard Medical school professor who is director of the clinical trials unit for the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said Thursday in an interview, “I think 18 months is more realistic. That’s actually really, really fast. That would be the fastest that anything’s ever been done before.”

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She said vaccines need to undergo extensive testing first, with progressively larger groups of patients, initially to prove they’re safe, then to prove they’re effective.

“You can make a vaccine, but you’re not going to put that into humans until you’re pretty confident in your product,” said Stephenson, whose center helped develop a Zika vaccine and is now working on a coronavirus vaccine.

Once the drug is approved for use, then there is the challenge of manufacturing millions of doses and distributing them, said Stephenson.

The good news: efforts to find a vaccine are underway on multiple fronts

A race has been sparked among biotech companies to quickly whip up a vaccine, STAT reports. One of the companies is Moderna Therapeutics of Cambridge, whose National Institutes of Health-partnered product is expected to enter clinical study in March.

Other biotech companies pursuing a vaccine include Plymouth Meeting, Pa.-based Inovio. Big drugmakers such as GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Sanofi, and Johnson & Johnson, are also at work, Bloomberg News reports.

University and government labs are also laboring to develop a vaccine, The Atlantic reports.

Dozens of prominent scientists from Massachusetts biotechs, universities, and hospitals are expected to converge Monday on Harvard Medical School for a four-hour closed-door meeting to brainstorm potential ways to treat and prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, the Globe reported.

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“We’re at the center of this extraordinary biomedical ecosystem here in Boston,” George Q. Daley, dean of the medical school, told the Globe. “We really want to put together the best team to tackle the problem."

Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.







Martin finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com