Here's why it takes so long to make a vaccine

  • There are at least three phases in the creation of a vaccine.
  • The fastest vaccine ever developed took four years.
  • India’s ICMR wants to launch a vaccine by August 15, risking rushed trials and approvals.

It’s been six months since the coronavirus pandemic started infecting millions of people around the world. There is no vaccine yet and it is not surprising. What is surprising is the push from Indian Council for Medical Research for the launch of a COVID-19 vaccine by August 15.

The world’s largest vaccine manufacturer has said that they can provide a coronavirus vaccine to all by the end of this year if the trials are successful.

There are a number of organizations racing to make a vaccine. Some of them are skipping steps — like the usual animal trials before testing it on humans⁠— given the scale of the pandemic, reported Wired citing Dr. Seema Yasmin, Director of Stanford Health Communication Initiative.


Yasmin further told Wired that the fastest vaccine ever developed took four years. It will be a new record even if a company manages to create a vaccine in 12-18 months. Usually, a vaccine can take more than 10 year and cost as much as $500 million to fully develop, according to UK charity. In this, the discovery and research phase consumes two to five years.

But India wants one in the next 45 days, or less.

Vaccine takes longer because of the phases involved

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw explained, in a chat with Business Insider in May 2020, that vaccine development takes time due to the phases involved.

In the first phase (exploratory stage), a dose escalation is done to see what the ideal dose for an optimal immune response is.

In the second phase (pre clinical stage), it is tested if the immune response can be done in all age groups. This is important as the first phase is conducted with young healthy volunteers who are at minimal risk.

In the third phase (clinical trial) e, the vaccine is given to a larger population to ensure that the same immune response is given by everyone who is vaccinated.

“One of the most important things of this phase is to check how long the immunity stays. This allows to determine how often a person will have to get re vaccinated,” Shaw said.

However, even after going through such a long process vaccine development may not be successful.

“When we are used to five-year time frames, to see something go into human testing on March 17 is really a remarkable thing. Does this guarantee success? Not necessarily . Vaccine development is characterised by a high failure rate – often 93% between animal studies and registration of a product,” Dr Jerome Kim, Director-General of the International Vaccine Institute.

At the time, Shaw said Indian vaccine programmes may take 6 to 9 months to get into clinical trials.

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