Developing a vaccine for Covid-19

There has been some positive news in recent weeks around the prospect of vaccines being developed to combat Covid-19.  While the news is very positive, obviously it will take a while before these vaccines are in general use.

Here is a quick overview looking at the development of vaccines and the progress that has been made.


There are currently over 150 vaccines in development across the world. The Irish Government has signed up to be part of the EU’s advance purchase agreement for six of the vaccines. They are made by companies Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Janssen and Sanofi-GSK. The Government’s task force on the delivery of the vaccines has met twice to discuss the logistics of storing, transporting and administering the vaccines.

Some of the main vaccines are:

Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

US pharmaceutical company Pfizer has released final results from clinical trials on a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine which shows that the drug is 90%+ effective and has passed all safety checks. Over 43,000 volunteers took part in the trial. Crucially, the vaccine reportedly works well in people over the age of 65.

Pfizer, which has large operations in Ireland, will produce 50 million doses of the vaccine this year and a further 1.3 billion in 2021. The company is predicting deliveries to begin by the end of this month, subject to the regulatory approvals.

A spokesperson for Pfizer has said that the first batches of the vaccine will be sent to countries in the following weeks pending approval from the FDA and the EMA. The company applied for emergency EU approval on 1st December.

The vaccine comes with supply challenges namely that it requires two doses per person and the doses must be maintained at extremely low temperatures of -80 degrees.


Moderna also applied for emergency EU approval on 1st December. Their vaccine trial involved over 30,000 people in the US and is reportedly 94.1 per cent effective. The American pharma company has said that the vaccine could be available from 21st December.

AstraZeneca/Oxford University

This vaccine requires one dose and it does not need to be stored at extremely cold temperatures. AstraZeneca and Oxford University have said data from their late-stage clinical trials are expected by the end of 2020. It is reportedly 90% effective but the makers of the vaccine are planning an additional global trial to confirm this efficacy rate. Authorisation is expected by the end of 2020 in some countries.

Rollout of Vaccine

It is hoped that the vaccine will be administered to the most vulnerable in the community as soon as possible, including persons over the age of 65 and those working in the healthcare frontlines. However exact timelines are still to be confirmed.

The head of the Government’s new taskforce on the delivery of the vaccines, Professor Brian MacCraith, has indicated that they hope to start distributing the vaccines by January, all dependant on which of the vaccines come to market first.

The task force will come before the Dail’s Health Committee on 16th December to give an update on preparations for the vaccine. We will continue to monitor developments with interest and will keep you updated once more details are confirmed.

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