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(Image: Louis Reed/Unsplash)

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.