Will a COVID-19 vaccine be ready in 2020? Maybe, but it’s complicated. What to know


Experts are hopeful that a vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 virus will become available sooner rather than later.

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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

We’ve been waiting on a COVID-19 vaccine for months, and on Monday Pfizer, a US pharmaceutical company, announced that it has a vaccine that it says proved 90% effective in people who aren’t known to have the coronavirus, as a result of its trials so far. The company says it tested the vaccine on 43,538 people in six countries, with no serious safety concerns found.

Pfizer plans to apply for emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration in the third week of November. Any COVID vaccine you’ll receive in the US has to gain FDA approval first. If approved, the pharmaceutical company expects to produce up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020, and 1.3 billion in 2021. Each person would need to take two shots 21 days apart.

Once a drug is approved, it’ll take time to make and distribute — not everyone will be able to get a vaccine at once. Most of the first batch will be earmarked for first responders and people in the medical community.

If a vaccine is approved by the end of the year, it would mark just one year after the discovery of SARS-CoV-2, the official name of the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease. Vaccine development can often take decades.

Getting one or more vaccines through clinical trials to FDA approval is just the first leg of the journey. The next is convincing people to take it. Sixty-three percent of US adults expressed safety concerns over a coronavirus vaccine, according to a Harris Poll from Oct. 19, with 40% of respondents specifically worrying that its development has been too fast. Some people are reportedly concerned about possible side effects.

Currently, there are 52 coronavirus vaccines in various stages of clinical trials, with a handful almost ready to apply for approval. Most experts believe we’ll have several ready to distribute by early 2021, but it may not be until 2022 that life starts to get back to normal.

The FDA said in June that it won’t approve any vaccine that doesn’t work at least half the time, but some scientists have questioned whether that’s an effective enough goal. The hope is that, out of a field of dozens of candidates, at least a few work better than half the time. Since Pfizer says its vaccine is 90% effective, it likely has a higher chance of being approved by the FDA.

Here, we walk you through the leading coronavirus vaccine news, explain where the most promising candidates stand and who could get which vaccine. This article is updated frequently and is intended to be a general overview and not a source of medical advice. If you’re seeking more information about coronavirus testing, here’s how to find a testing site near you.

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Important COVID-19 vaccine news 


An effective coronavirus vaccine might be the only way to bring a stop to preventative measures, like social distancing and face masks.

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COVID-19 vaccine development is gaining momentum

Several acceleration efforts are currently underway, like the White House’s Operation Warp Speed, which is meant to cut through regulatory red tape to speed up vaccine development and be ready to distribute vaccines as soon as they receive FDA approval. So far, the US government has pledged over $10 billion to several vaccine manufacturers to secure a total of 800 million vaccine doses.

Vaccines typically take about 10 to 15 years to develop and approve, through four phases that include human trials. But with Operation Warp Speed, approved vaccine projects can submit data to the FDA bit by bit, rather than submitting all the data from a four-phase trial all at once.

Meanwhile, the program is also financially backing efforts to start manufacturing doses while clinical trials are still ongoing. That means if and when those vaccines do get approved, there will already be a store of doses ready to distribute nationally. 

“I would hope that by the time we get well into the second half of 2021 that the companies will have delivered the hundreds of millions of doses they have promised,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Forbes in August. As recently as October, Fauci still seemed confident in such a timeline. Pfizer adds hope to that statement, with its claim of a 90% effective rate against the coronavirus.


Experts say recent surges in coronavirus cases aren’t merely the result of the US doing more testing, as a higher percentage of those tested are coming up positive compared to earlier stages of the pandemic.

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Promising coronavirus vaccines from the UK, US and China

Here’s a quick look at some of the frontrunners in the race to find a vaccine for COVID-19, including where the vaccines are being developed, where they are on testing them, and when scientists think they might be ready for widespread distribution, if known.

Oxford University/AstraZeneca (UK): AstraZeneca has restarted testing of its vaccine, which began with 100,000 human volunteers in at least three countries. Lead researcher Dr. Sarah Gilbert had initially said AstraZeneca is aiming for a fall 2020 release and while that may be optimistic at this point, it doesn’t appear to be significantly delayed.

Moderna (US): An apparent scuffle with government regulators delayed large-scale human testing, but Moderna’s CEO has told Barron’s he still expects the company will know by Thanksgiving if the vaccine is safe and effective. He says Moderna should be able to distribute it in early 2021 if it is.

Pfizer (US): Although its four COVID-19 vaccine candidates are still in early-stage human trials, two of them have been fast-tracked by the FDA. One of them, the company says, is 90% effective and will be sent to the FDA for emergency approval this month. Pfizer’s goal is to distribute 50 million doses in 2020 (down from its original 100 million projections) and another 1.3 billion in 2021.

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Sinovac (China): Currently testing its vaccine on about 10,000 human volunteers in China and about 9,000 in Brazil and is set to begin testing on about 1,900 test subjects in Indonesia soon. Honesti Basyir, the president of Bio Farma, Sinovac’s Indonesian partner, has said he expects the vaccine to be ready by early 2021.

Sinopharm (China): Currently testing about 15,000 volunteers in the Middle East in a trial the state-owned company expects to last three to six months. Early results suggest the drug is safe and at least somewhat effective. Sinopharm recently built a second facility to manufacture the vaccine, doubling its capacity to about 200 million doses per year.

CanSino Biologics (China): Set to begin large-scale human trials this summer, CanSino’s vaccine has already been approved for the Chinese military. The vaccine is based on a modified common cold virus, which some experts warn could make it less effective than other vaccine efforts.


Wearing a face mask remains the surest way of preventing transmission of the coronavirus.

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How many vaccines will each person need?

We probably won’t know until next year, but Fauci has suggested it might require several different vaccines made and distributed by different labs to bring an end to the pandemic, in a paper published May 11 in the journal Science. He also has said he foresees different vaccines being given to different patient populations. For example, one vaccine for elderly or other high-risk patients, another for healthy adults and another for children.

If the Pfizer vaccine is approved, you’d need to take two shots, 21 days apart. 

What to do until a coronavirus vaccine is approved?

Coronaviruses are a large class of viruses and so far there are no vaccines for any of them. While there are promising early results, there’s no guarantee a vaccine will be ready by 2021. Statistically, only about 6% of vaccine candidates ever make it through to market, according to a Reuters report from April. However, health officials are very optimistic that the Pfizer vaccine and others like it could end the coronavirus pandemic.

Early evidence has suggested that the coronavirus doesn’t appear to mutate as quickly or often as the flu, and it’s thought that the virus has not yet mutated significantly enough to disrupt vaccine development — although our knowledge could change.


Most experts expect a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, by 2021.

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The longer we go without a vaccine, the more likely focus will shift toward treatments, such as the experimental antiviral drug remdesivir and dexamethasone, a steroid that doctors say increases survival rates among the most serious cases. On Tuesday, the Eli Lilly COVID antibody received FDA emergency clearance. It’s called bamlanivimab and it’s for use against mild-to-moderate coronavirus in adults.

With effective therapeutic treatments, many viruses that used to be fatal are no longer death sentences. Patients with HIV, for example, can now expect to enjoy the same life expectancy as non-HIV-positive individuals, thanks to tremendous advances in treatment. 

Eventually, the global population may reach the 60-70% rate required for herd immunity to protect those who aren’t immune, which is, ultimately, the goal of a vaccine.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.


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