IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Why so many vaccines are being developed

3rd August, 2020 Health

Context: According to the latest list of the World Health Organisation, at least 165 vaccines for novel Corona virus were being developed across the world. Those that are listed have all entered at least the pre-clinical trials stage.

Why are so many vaccines being developed?

Vaccine development has a very low success rate

  • Out of the 100 that are considered in the research laboratories as potential candidates, barely 20 make it to the pre-clinical trial stage. This means almost 80 per cent of the candidates are not even considered suitable to be tried on animals.
  • Then, not more than five of the original lots are approved for human trials, and out of these, not more than one or two stand a chance of being approved for public use.
  • Countries with robust regulatory systems are unlikely to lower their bar just because of the prevailing emergency. The effectiveness of the vaccine in phase-III trials is crucial.


The world needs multiple Corona virus vaccines

  • Considering the prevailing situation in which everyone would want to get their hands on the vaccine as quickly as possible, one vaccine is unlikely to meet the immediate global demand.
  • There are already indications that some countries may corner a bulk of the new vaccines, while the others are left to wait for them to become available at a later date.
  • The United States, for example, has already entered into billion-dollar agreements with multiple leading contenders, booked hundreds of millions of doses in advance.
  • That is why several countries have started their own initiatives at developing the vaccine.


There is another reason why multiple vaccines would be needed.

  • As pointed out by Serum Institute’s Adar Poonawala as well, there is no guarantee that the first vaccine would be the most effective.
  • These vaccines are being developed in haste, and there is every likelihood that the ones that come later are able to learn from the experiences of the earlier ones, and make modifications to become more effective.
  • In addition, the global demand for vaccines would be such that it would easily be able to absorb the production costs of multiple vaccines.


New technologies being tried

  • As they race against time to produce a vaccine, research groups across the world are testing several cutting edge technologies in vaccine development, some of which have never succeeded in delivering a final product.
  • For example, a DNA or RNA-based approach to produce a vaccine has not succeeded till now. However, these approaches are being tried out to develop a Corona virus vaccine, because they are potentially quicker and easier to make.
  • In these kinds of approaches, the genetic material of the virus (either DNA or RNA) is injected inside the human body to trigger an immune response.
  • The deployment of these relatively new technologies to produce a vaccine has increased the number of candidates being developed.


Fund availability

  • Vaccine development is a very costly endeavour, requiring hundreds of millions of dollars. In normal times, only big pharmaceutical giants with deep pockets and risk appetite, or institutions with large research grants get into vaccine development.
  • The situation is dramatically different in the current pandemic, however. From governments to donor agencies to multinational corporations to international health initiatives, all have opened their purse strings for a Corona virus vaccine. Every candidate that shows promise in the laboratories is being backed. Many companies and institutions are actually developing multiple candidates.


It is a high-risk game, but can turn out to be extremely rewarding for those who succeed. Many research groups are in this for the learning experience as well.