China hopes to create the first COVID-19 vaccine. Reports said that Dr, Chen Wei was authorized to start a clinical trial for her vaccine on Monday. Dr. Chen Wei is a virologist and an officer in the Chinese army.

The authorization came on the same day that a clinical trial began in the US at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle.

About 35 companies and academic institutions are racing to create a COVID-19 vaccine. At least 4 of which already have candidates they have been testing on animals. The first one was produced by American biotech firm Moderna. They hope to enter human trials soon.

This unprecedented speed is mainly the result of early Chinese efforts to sequence the genetic material of Sars-CoV-2. China shared that sequence with the world in early January allowing research groups around the world to grow the live virus and study its behavior. 

Coronavirus has caused two other recent epidemics: SARS (2002) and MERS (2012).

Back then, labs began working on vaccines for both cases. They were later shelved when the outbreaks were contained. Labs currently working on the new COVID-19 vaccine built on earlier work on the SARS and MERS virus.

These helped speed up the process of developing a vaccine for the Sars-CoV-2 virus. Sars-coV-2 shares between 80% and 90% of its genetic material with the virus that caused SARS. Clinical trials are essential to governments’ regulatory approval. They usually take place in 3 phases.

The first involves a few dozen healthy volunteers. The vaccine is tested for safety and side effects. The second involves several hundred people and usually in an area affected by the disease. This phase looks at how effective the vaccine is.

The third phase is similar to the second phase but involves thousands of people.

Not all experimental COVID-19 vaccine will finish the race. Once a vaccine has been approved a further set of challenges will present itself. These are mainly political and economic challenges.

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