When will we have a COVID-19 vaccine on the market in the United States?

The million dollar question! The honest answer is that nobody knows. That being said, many researchers and companies (at least eight) are racing to get the first viable COVID-19 vaccine to the market. My best guess is that we will have one, and maybe two different vaccines, within the next year. Remember that there was not one polio vaccine but two. I think the same may happen with COVID-19.

Groups in China, the UK, the US and elsewhere are trying to solve this problem. There are many approaches, some novel, that are being evaluated. One of the most exciting is the vaccine being tested by Moderna. It's a new vaccine type called an mRNA vaccine — mRNA is the chemical code for a protein. This particular mRNA is the code for a protein that is found in those distinctive spikes that you see in pictures of the coronavirus.

When injected, the mRNA sets into motion the production of that particular protein. While the protein by itself is not disease-promoting, it does spur the immune system to make antibodies against COVID-19. The first human test of this vaccine was promising — it promoted the production of the wanted antibodies in the subjects tested and was fairly well tolerated.

The company is now starting a larger phase 2 trial in 600 people. Several other companies are also quickly moving forward with their versions of a COVID-19 vaccine using different approaches. It's impossible to say for sure, but it is likely that one or more of these approaches will be fruitful and that we will have a viable vaccine soon.

John R. White is the chair of the Department of Pharmacology at WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences based in Spokane.

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