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Predicting when a COVID-19 vaccine will be developed, licensed, and manufactured at a global scale is, frankly, a mug’s game. The shortest predicted timeframe — that it may be ready within 12 months of the mid-January release of the virus genome by Chinese researchers — would be an unprecedented achievement.

To put it in perspective, the HPV vaccine took 15 years.

During the Zika outbreak in 2015, a vaccine was ready for testing after about seven months, but the epidemic slowed before an approved vaccine got to clinical trials. Likewise, attempts to develop vaccines for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) were shelved when those outbreaks where contained.

But this crisis represents something new. Here are some of the local and international efforts, and where they’re at.

Flinders University

Flinders say they’re “closing in” on a vaccine. Flinders University Professor Nikolai Petrovsky told Crikey his team’s target was to have a vaccine in human trials as soon as they had the animal testing results in six to eight weeks time.

“The commonly quoted 12-18 month timeframe is in respect of highly experimental vaccines that have not been previously extensively tested in humans,” he said.

Petrovsky said as soon as the genomic sequence of COVID-19 became available in January, his team used this, “combined with our previous experience in developing a SARS coronavirus vaccine” to characterise the key viral attachment molecule called the spike protein.

Though he stressed expectations should be realistic until all testing is completed, Petrovsky said that, with the right government support, he was confident that a vaccine could be “developed extremely rapidly and in humans before the end of this year”.

He said the team had built a pandemic vaccine platform over roughly the last 15 years that was designed to be “plug and play”. 

“We have extensively tested this plug and play pandemic vaccine platform in multiple human studies and shown it to be effective and safe including against various strains of bird and swine flu. We also showed it was effective against SARS coronavirus in animal studies,” he said.

“So the reason we can be so fast versus other groups out there is we just needed to swap in the sequence for the COVID-19 attachment protein into our vaccine and start manufacturing it.”


Moderna Therapeutics, a biotech company based in Boston, has shipped the first batches of its COVID-19 vaccine. The first vials were sent to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which will ready the vaccine for human testing as early as this month.

Moderna was given approval to skip the animal testing portion, potentially skimming years off the development process. The company says a best case scenario could mean a vaccine by March next year.


The United States and China are leading the charge to develop a vaccine, a kind of 21st century Space Race. A day after Moderna got approval, CanSino, a Chinese biotech working with the country’s Academy of Military Medical Science announced it was also proceeding to human clinical trials.

CanSino said it had already got positive results testing its vaccine on animals. Human testing will continue for the rest of the year.


CSIRO scientists have begun work on testing for a potential vaccine to coronavirus.

The testing will be carried out at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (on ferrets, who contract the virus in the same way as humans) in Geelong and is expected to take three months.

CSIRO’s director of health Rob Grenfell told Reuters his team were working at a “remarkable” pace, reaching the pre-clinical testing stage — which usually takes up to two year — in about eight weeks.

However he was sticking to the 18-month time frame for developing and delivering a vaccine to the public.

British American Tobacco

In “why the fuck not, it’s 2020” news: British American Tobacco (BAT) has announced that its US biotech subsidiary, Kentucky BioProcessing, has moved to pre-clinical testing for a tobacco plant-based vaccine.

While stressing it is in the early stages of development, BAT has said it could produce up to three million COVID-19 vaccines weekly by June — as long as it receives government support and can form partnerships with other researchers.

We’re sure the research has nothing to do with keeping their customers, which the virus appears to be wiping out even faster that the rest of us.

The University of Queensland

UQ was working with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) way back in January 2019, preparing vaccines to stop (what was then) the world’s next epidemic (and is now just life).

Unsurprisingly, it has recently gotten a funding bump from both state and federal government, to the tune of $17 million. UQ is pushing to start clinical trials by July, and says the extra money could help it shave up to six months off the development time frame.

Also at UQ, researchers are set to begin clinical trials of a potential treatment for COVID-19 using existing drugs for the treatment of HIV and malaria.

However, UQ Centre for Clinical Research director David Paterson was forced to issue an import clarification: “I have never suggested these drugs be used before a trial establishes their efficacy. Unfortunately, my comments have on some occasions been used out of context … I do not support the stockpiling of these drugs.”

Monash University

Scientists at Monash University and the Peter Doherty Institute say they’ve found that an existing anti-parasitic drug — Ivermectin, used to treat viruses such as HIV, dengue, influenza and Zika — also kills the coronavirus in test tubes in 48 hours.

“Ivermectin is very widely used and seen as a safe drug. We need to figure out now whether the dosage you can use it at in humans will be effective — that’s the next step,” Dr Kylie Wagstaff, who led the study, told the Australian Financial Review.

“In times when we’re having a global pandemic and there isn’t an approved treatment, if we had a compound that was already available around the world, then that might help people sooner.”

Monash is still seeking funding for pre-clinical testing and clinical trials, making a time frame impossible to nail down. But according to Wagstaff “realistically, it’s going to be a while before a vaccine is broadly available”.


It’s not just China, Western Europe and America working on vaccines. OncoGen, a research centre based in the Romanian city of Timisoara, began trialling a vaccine in March.

While the country does not usually produce vaccines due to a lack of resources, researchers say they’re hoping their efforts show they “stand shoulder to shoulder” with their colleagues across the world.