Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen unprecedented levels of funding for vaccine research and development (R&D). This is a great first step, but it’s only the first step.
The three main stages of the vaccine process are:
Recently, attention has focused on stage 1. But if we want to tackle an infectious disease like COVID-19 and achieve the life-saving results of vaccination, all three are essential, and all need support and funding. If one stage fails, the whole effort fails.
It’s vital that governments step up and commit investment for the whole of the vaccine process, and work with philanthropies, businesses and the global health community to drive it forward.
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(opens in a new tab) – 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(opens in a new tab).
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.
After a vaccine is approved, manufacturing gets going.
There are a range of challenges to overcome, including:
Governments, as well as partners such as Gavi, work directly with manufacturers to negotiate affordable prices for buying the vaccines for many low- and middle-income countries.
Gavi also invests in vaccine stockpiles to make sure the world is prepared for future outbreaks, such as for Ebola. UNICEF works alongside Gavi by securing contracts for long-term procurement and a steady and reliable vaccine supply. This all helps to make sure that it’s not just the richest countries that have access to the life-saving vaccines when they’re needed.
Having a steady supply of vaccines at an affordable price still isn’t enough. The right infrastructure must be in place to get the vaccine to everyone who needs one.
Gavi, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and civil society organisations work with governments:
COVID-19 has required a major rethinking of almost every part of the usual vaccine process.
Research and development
Manufacturing and procurement
Delivery and access
However the scale and urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic don’t change one vital fact: all three stages need funding. We need to make sure we can manufacture enough doses quickly and get them to everyone who needs them.
Tomorrow’s Global Vaccine Summit(opens in a new tab) is a key turning-point in making this happen, getting control over COVID-19, and ensuring access continues to the life-saving vaccines we already have.