Samanth Subramanian in The Guardian:
Defeating Covid-19 will call for more than vaccines; it will involve quarantines, social distancing, antivirals and other drugs, and healthcare for the sick. But the idea of a vaccine – the quintessential silver bullet – has come to bear an almost unreasonable allure. The coronavirus arrived at a ripe moment in genetic technology, when the advances of the past half-decade have made it possible for vaccine projects to explode off the blocks as soon as a virus is sequenced. These cutting-edge vaccines don’t use weakened forms of the germ to build our immunity, as all vaccines once did; rather, they contain short copies of parts of the germ’s genetic code – its DNA or RNA – which can produce fragments of the germ within our bodies.
Thus, for the first time ever, scientists have been able to muster up vaccine prospects mere weeks into a new, fast-spreading disease. Right now, there are at least 43 Covid-19 vaccines in development around the world – in Brisbane and Hong Kong, in the US and the UK, in the labs of universities and companies. Most of these are DNA or RNA vaccines. One vaccine, made in 63 days by an American biotech firm named Moderna, moved into human trials on 16 March, entering the bloodstream of the first of 45 healthy adult volunteers in Seattle. It was a “world indoor record”, said Anthony Fauci, the doctor who heads the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Nothing has ever gone that fast.”