How Vaccines Are Developed

HealthcareDecember 01, 2020

The potential of a COVID-19 vaccine has been in the news a lot lately as the country tries to get control of the virus. Developing a vaccine is an important step in life returning to normal, but most people aren’t familiar with how vaccines are developed. 

Vaccines aren’t all created using the same method, and there are four main types:

  • Live vaccines are a weakened form of the pathogen. Live vaccines are used in measles and smallpox shots. 
  • Inactivated vaccines are a killed version of the pathogen. Inactivated vaccines are used to control the flu and polio.
  • Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines isolate and target a specific part of a pathogen, such as a protein. HPV, whooping cough, and shingles vaccines use this form
  • Toxoid vaccines use a toxin the pathogen emits. Tetanus shots are an example of this form of vaccine. 

How Vaccines Are Approved

Before a new vaccine can be distributed, it must go through three phases of clinical trials. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets the rules and criteria it must pass to ensure safety.

The first phase involves 20-100 healthy volunteers who test the vaccine for safety and side effects. 

Phase two expands that group of volunteers to several hundred, and the vaccine developers look for patterns to identify short-term side effects.  They also monitor the volunteers’ immune systems to see how they respond to the vaccine. 

The third phase of the trial continues to expand the set of volunteers to hundreds or thousands of people. During this final step, vaccine developers compare the results of people who got the vaccine and those who received a placebo. They also determine if the vaccine is safe and effective, and what its most common side effects are.

The FDA will only license a vaccine if it’s found to be safe and effective and if its benefits outweigh any risks. The FDA and CDC continue to monitor the vaccine after it is released for public use to watch for adverse events or unanticipated side effects. 

Vaccines have changed our modern life and are responsible for eradicating smallpox and nearly eliminating polio. A number of pharmaceutical and biotech companies are currently working on vaccines to combat COVID-19. Pfizer, for example, is having success with a two-dose vaccine, and, if approved, plans to release it by the end of the year. 

While vaccine researchers often hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree, pharmaceutical companies also employ lab technicians who may be asked to help with testing. If this career sounds exciting to you, Fortis can help put you on the right path. We offer a medical lab technician program at campus locations in Alabama, Louisiana, and Tennessee. To learn more, please visit our site.