To start with, scientists carry out lab-based discovery research to understand more about the virus or bacterium – including its structure, how it enters the body, and how an immune response can be induced at a molecular level.
This research is supported by a range of organisations, including national governments, the European Commission, and funders like Wellcome and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who commit millions every year to vaccine R&D.
Once scientists find a potential vaccine, animal trials and then clinical trials on humans are needed to prove that it’s safe and that it works.
CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations – a global partnership between public, private, philanthropic and civil society organisations – plays a vital role in supporting, funding and coordinating clinical trials – one of the riskiest parts of vaccine development because the studies are hugely expensive and time-consuming.
CEPI prioritises vaccine development for diseases with epidemic potential. Because of this, governments have pledged millions to CEPI to stimulate research on COVID-19 around the world. Thanks to their funding and support, four possible COVID-19 vaccines are already in clinical trials.
Once a vaccine passes clinical trials, it is then submitted for regulatory review and approval. Read our explainer for a full breakdown of how vaccine R&D works.