The COVID-19 vaccine

April 16, 2020, Surfcoast Times April 16

A vaccine which is safe and effective can take up to 10 years to develop. In recent times, the process has been streamlined to five years. If all the scientific planets align, and we continue to see open collaborations among the world-wide scientific community, we may have a COVID-19 vaccine in 12 to 18 months – this will be a huge achievement!

Below outlines the steps Australian scientists are taking to develop a COVID-19 vaccine:

1. Detection of COVID-19 (Wuhan, China)
2. A sample of the virus is received and grown in lab, at Peter Doherty Institute, Melbourne – no other labs in the world were able to successfully achieve this!
3. Scientists investigate the characteristics (size, shape and genetic make-up) of the virus and identify parts of the virus which will be chosen for the vaccine. These chosen parts are called “vaccine candidates”. One of the “vaccine candidates” is called the ‘spike’ protein, and it is the one that binds to human receptors and gives COVID-19 is spikey crown-like appearance.
4. At the highest biocontainment level in the world, CSIRO scientists in Geelong work in protective suits and use a ferret as a substitute for human infection. As much information as possible is gathered to understand how the virus makes us sick, how our immune system responds and how it is passed between people. It might seem strange, but ferrets and humans have very similar respiratory systems and this is a key differentiator in speeding up the vaccine development process.
5. The vaccine candidates are given to the ferrets and 2 months’ time is allowed for the antibody immune responses to take place. These responses are monitored and often referred to as ‘antibody levels’, ‘antibody titres’ or ‘protective response’.
6. Once the monitored levels of the vaccine candidate antibodies have reached a level to be deemed protective, the animals are challenged with the COVID-19 virus.
7. At this stage, scientists will look to see if the vaccine candidates have helped the immune system to stop the virus infection.
8. The findings of the vaccine trial will be validated through analysing immune markers and key health indicators.
9. The vaccine candidates that pass all of the validation tests will then be ready for Phase 1 clinical trial, involving a few dozen healthy volunteers to test for human safety.
10. If the safety tests are passed in the small healthy volunteer group, the vaccine candidates can be mass produced at CSIRO in Clayton.
11. Phase 2 human trials can begin with a larger group of volunteers, usually a few hundred in an outbreak infected area. This phase evaluates how effective the vaccine is against the virus.
12. Large scale manufacturing begins if the vaccines have been effective in protecting the volunteers in the outbreak areas.
13. Phase 3 human trials are initiated with several thousand people to look at how effective the vaccine is at initiating protective antibody responses.
14. If all is successful, then the vaccine can begin to be released to the general public!

The world-wide COVID-19 vaccine effort, backed by CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) has moved quickly and urgently to coordinate with global health authorities and partners to rapidly develop vaccine candidates against the disease.

You can learn more about this and even become a donor to support the vaccine effort. Check out

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