New Delhi: Vaccine design is still an empirical, trial and error process and a preventive against COVID-19 could be at least a year away, say scientists as information on developments in therapeutics to combat the infection flows in a steady trickle from across the world.
While quelling the buzz of a quick breakthrough, the scientists also hold out hope that the process might be cut short by a few months if testing approvals and scale-ups in manufacturing happen simultaneously.
According to the World Health Organisation, 10 candidate vaccines for COVID-19 are in the clinical evaluation and 126 are in the preclinical stage.
Preclinical development is a stage of research during which important feasibility, iterative testing and drug safety data are collected, while clinical trials are research studies performed on people.
There are different broad strategies by which SARS-CoV-2 vaccines are being developed the world over, explained immunologist Satyajit Rath.
While all are well-known strategies -- some almost two centuries old and some almost two decades old -- none are 'guaranteed' to yield a usable vaccine, the scientist from the National Institute of Immunology (NII) in New Delhi told.
Vaccine design still remains mostly an empirical, trial and error process, rather than an innovative knowledge-driven one. This is why, while any of these approaches is being put through trial and error, it remains a 'vaccine candidate' rather than a 'vaccine', he added.
According to Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland in the U.S, What's being confused -- and scientists and politicians are contributing to the confusion -- is the difference between a candidate and a vaccine."
He was speaking at a virtual meeting earlier when scientists at the University of California (UC) Davis and from other institutes in the U.S gathered to lay out a full picture of the complexities of developing and distributing a COVID-19 vaccine -- which they generally agreed won't happen until some time in 2021.
"We are not expected to return to a fully normal life until a vaccine is developed. But how long will that take? UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May asked in the meeting.
About a year, maybe more, was the consensus.