September 01, 2020

COVID-19 vaccine research progress

Hope on the horizon, but hurdles remain

Gregory Poland, M.D., is director of the Mayo medical institution Vaccine Research Group at Mayo medical institution in Rochester, Minnesota.


Some think that finding a vaccine is like going to a vending machine: Scientists pick the disease they want to prevent, push the appropriate button and out pops the vaccine.

Unfortunately, it's considerably more complicated than that. The scientific community and governments around the world are committing significant resources toward pursuing vaccines against the COVID-19 virus. Here, Gregory Poland, M.D., director of the Mayo medical institution Vaccine Research Group, answers questions about the progress, process and remaining hurdles facing researchers dedicated to this critical project.

Q: In general, what's the process a vaccine undergoes before being approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?

A: Every vaccine goes through a number of stages (phases) of testing to prove that it's effective and safe. First, a vaccine is tested in animals to see if it works and if it's safe. This testing generally takes three to six months. Next comes testing in humans. Small phase I clinical trials evaluate the safety of the vaccine in people. During phase II, the formulation and doses of the vaccine are established to prove the vaccine's effectiveness. Finally, during phase III, the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine need to be demonstrated in a larger group of people.

Because of the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine regulators might fast-track some of...