The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus has changed the world dynamics by killing thousands of people and pushing nationwide shutdowns in almost every country. The virus is still running its course and the curve is yet to be flattened in most of the countries. Even after the curve flattens, the majority of the world’s population will be at risk of getting exposed to the virus if social lockdowns are lifted. In the circumstances, the development of coronavirus vaccines remains a major concern to build protection for the human immune systems to fight against the deadly coronavirus.

While discussing the coronavirus vaccines, it is worth mentioning that SARS-CoV-2 is not the only human coronavirus that caused an outbreak. Previously, MERS coronavirus outbreak occurred in middle-east countries and SARS coronavirus outbreak took place in Asia causing respiratory illness. MERS and SARS were not close to the COVID-19 virus in terms of contagiousness and deadliness. The important note is, none of these viruses have approved vaccines to date.[1] However, the ongoing research for COVID-19 vaccines with collaborative efforts from the public and private sector suggests that a vaccine is most likely to be available by mid-2021.

FIGURE: Outbreaks of human coronavirus / Source: World Health Organization

Region-wise COVID-19 Clinical Studies  

Since the beginning of the outbreak, researchers from different parts of the world have been relentlessly working to find ways to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, almost 1000 registered studies are investigating coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Backed by advanced medical technology, North America and Europe are the frontrunners in conducting coronavirus studies.[2] Underdeveloped health infrastructure and lack of focus in medical research is why South Aisan countries lag behind.

FIGURE: Number of coronavirus studies registered worldwide by regions / Source: Statista

Current State of Candidate Vaccines

The clinical trial processes of vaccines typically involve four phases to evaluate the safety and effectiveness before making them available to the public which usually take a long period of time. For COVID-19 vaccine trials, the duration of these vaccines are expected to be expedited. 

FIGURE: Phases of clinical trial processes and expected duration for COVID-19 trials.

Around 80 companies and academic institutions are working towards producing the COVID-19 vaccine. Among these, Moderna, a Boston-based biotech company was the first to enter human trials. According to the World Health Organization, there are 76 candidate vaccines in the development of which 7 candidate vaccines have been approved for clinical evaluation with the rest in pre-clinical evaluation.[3]

PlatformDeveloperCountryCurrent Stage of Clinical Evaluation
RNAModerna / National Institute of Allergy and Infectious DiseasesUnited StatesPhase I
RNABioNTech SE / PfizerGermanyPhase I
DNAInovio PharmaceuticalsUnited StatesPhase I
InactivatedBeijing Institute of Biological Products / Wuhan Institute of Biological ProductsChinaPhase I
InactivatedSinovacChinaPhase I
Non-Replicating Viral VectorUniversity of OxfordUnited KingdomPhase I
Non-Replicating Viral VectorCanSino Biologics / Beijing Institute of BiotechnologyChinaPhase II
TABLE: Vaccine candidates currently in clinical evaluation / Source: World Health Organization

Global Efforts Towards Developing Coronavirus Vaccines

The countries that are in the global race for producing coronavirus vaccines include China, the USA, the UK, Canada, Germany, Israel, etc. with contributing a sizable amount of funds. While discoursing the estimated time of developing coronavirus vaccines, it is imperative to look into how different countries have approached to produce vaccines so far.


The Government of the USA has allocated around USD 1 billion for the development of coronavirus vaccines. Skipping an important stage of animal testing, Moderna Inc. proceeded for the first human trial in March 2020. The pharmaceutical company has secured USD 438 million from the U.S. government funding to further advance its candidate vaccine through clinical testing.[4]

Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and Johnson & Johnson have collaborated to create a potential vaccine investing more than USD 1 billion.[4] Pharmaceutical giants GSK and Sanofi have committed to putting joint efforts to develop a vaccine. Meanwhile, the shares of biotech companies in the USA that are involved in developing coronavirus vaccines such as Moderna., Novavax, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, etc. have significantly increased over the last weeks.


China currently has the leading number of vaccine candidates with three ongoing human trials. CanSino Biologics, a Tianjin-based biotech firm in China, was the first to move into phase II trials for coronavirus vaccine development. Besides, eight institutes in China are working on five different approaches to produce a vaccine to tackle COVID-19.[5]

United Kingdom

To date, the UK has made the single largest contribution of GBP 200 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), an international alliance to find a coronavirus vaccine.[6] The first human trial in Europe has started in Oxford with a vaccine developed by a team at University of Oxford. Besides, another team at Imperial College London expects to begin human trials of its coronavirus vaccine in June. The University of Oxford and Imperial College teams have received more than GBP 40 million of government funding.[7]


The federal government of Australia has allocated USD 3 million for research into vaccines and treatment. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has been working on two potential vaccines. The tests of CSIRO are supposed to be the first comprehensive pre-clinical trials of the coronavirus vaccines using an animal model.[8] The neighboring country New Zealand has not contributed to the development of COVID-19 vaccines yet but it has successfully stopped community transmission of the virus by enforcing toughest restrictions on social and economic lockdown.


The Government of Canada has pledged around CAD 600 million for the development of COVID-19 vaccines. So far, a team of Canadian scientists has successfully isolated, replicated and grown copies of the coronavirus which will be able to help scientists develop better diagnostic testing, vaccines, treatments, etc in near future.[9]


The BNT162 vaccine, a collaborative effort from the German biotech firm BioNTech SE and an American pharmaceutical Pfizer, has been approved for the Phase I clinical trial. Initially, the trials are going to be conducted in Germany. However, the companies have plans to conduct trials in the US upon regulatory approval.[7]


Israel’s Institute for Biological Research has been researching the coronavirus under the Government’s supervision. MigVax, an affiliate of the Migal Galilee Research Institute secured USD 12 million funds to advance the efforts for developing a vaccine.[10]

The Way Ahead: Ensuring Equitable Distribution of Vaccines 

The developed countries are working together with combined efforts from academic, private and public sectors to introduce the ultimate solution, a COVID-19 vaccine which is highly appreciable. However, it needs to be reminded that the estimated time to have a foolproof vaccine is at least 12 to 18 months. Rushing the development of vaccines by skipping stages could end up worsening the condition of patients rather than preventing it. Therefore, researchers should follow the procedures properly to ensure the safety of clinical trials. To tackle the upcoming challenges in distributions of vaccines the countries should start preparing themselves from now.

  • As soon as a vaccine is approved, large-scale production and distribution will become a challenge where international funding will play a crucial role. CEPI has called for around USD 1 billion of funds to support the global manufacturing process and enhance capacity. The proper use of these funds is essential to carry out  production and distribution plans.
  • To ensure equitable placement of the vaccines in developing and underdeveloped countries, international organizations such as the World Health Organization, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) should come forward with adequate funds and effective distribution models.
  • Meanwhile, middle-income countries should encourage pharmaceutical players to invest in their R&D processes to increase their capacity to speed up production of possible vaccines. In a vastly populated country like Bangladesh, the distribution of the vaccines maintaining social distance will become a huge challenge. Collaborative efforts from the Government, NGOs and international community are required to ensure the delivery of vaccines in every corner of the country. 

A vaccine will definitely play the most significant role in protecting millions of lives from the novel coronavirus and help society return to functioning as normal. Hence, countries should prepare themselves to assure equitable distribution of vaccines in the foreseeable future. Till then, current preventive measures should be continued to follow to slow the spread of the disease as much as possible.

Ishrat Jahan Holy, Trainee Consultant at LightCastle Partners, has prepared the write-up. For further clarifications, contact here: [email protected]

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