The new coronavirus or COVID-19 as it is officially called is a global health crisis. One of the reasons why COVID-19 is so scary is the fact that it has no vaccine. Without a vaccine, we have limited control over the spread of the infection.
Moderna Therapeutics, a biotech company based in Cambridge became the first to create a potenial vaccine for COVID-19. Unfortunately, Moderna is a relatively small company and the vaccine must go through human trials before it can be mass produced. The truth is that none of the big industry leaders are currently investing much in COVID-19’s vaccine.
Drugs, especially vaccines, take potentially billions of dollars and years to develop. Drugs must first be synthesized which is a long process, then it must be extensively tested for effectiveness and safety. Due to its long development, if a health crisis subsides before launch or is less severe than initially thought, companies can potentially lose billions of dollars.
The SARS epidemic back in 2002-2003 was so short-lived that no vaccine even passed testing. There is still currently no protective vaccine for SARS as a result. The much more recent Ebola epidemic faced the same issues. Ebola has a high fatality rate, more than 50%, but has difficulty infecting a large number of people.
Johnson & Johnson, the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world, worked to create a vaccine for use in the Congo. While no solid numbers have been released, Johnson & Johnson certainly lost a huge amount of money developing and manufacturing the vaccine.
It’s not difficult to see why large pharmaceutical companies would be reluctant to create vaccines with so much uncertainty. There are arguments that they should be trying to save lives regardless of the cost, but others will argue that these companies need to stay profitable in order to survive, grow, and be ready to create other drugs that people need.
Experts say that a viable mass produced vaccine for COVID-19 is still at least a year away and that’s assuming a big pharmaceutical will be ready to manufacture the vaccine. We can only hope that this trend will be broken and we can have the full cooperation of the entire industry when we need it.