In 2020 – or the year that drew so many parallels to the dystopian sci-fi show Black Mirror that its creators decided to write a comedy instead – we were all in a race. A race to curb the novel coronavirus’ spread and “flatten the curve”; with dismal results.
In 2021, we are yet in another race. A race to vaccinate the world. It was the news (or more likely, the miracle) we were eagerly waiting for: to have a functional vaccine against COVID-19 as soon as possible. And in less than a year since the WHO declared the state of pandemic, we have more than one such vaccine. Records were broken in vaccine development rates, we have the hope we were looking for and the unspoken prophecy was fulfilled.
Now, several vaccines are approved in many countries and even by leading healthcare authorities; with millions of people already having been vaccinated. But this is not enough. We need billions to get their shot, or around 60-70% of the global population, to achieve herd immunity and stop the virus’ spread definitively. And that’s in the best case scenario, with a vaccine working perfectly.
However, the actual scenario is far from perfect. To emerge victorious in the vaccine race, countries are prioritising economic gains and prestige over safety. For instance, Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine underwent testing on only 76 volunteers and skipped the critical Phase III trials. Other countries or companies might follow suit and push for their own poorly tested vaccines.
Nonetheless, the hope that vaccines bring along is already here. But so as not to stumble in this race as individuals, we now have to focus on their efficiency. For this purpose, there are several tools available that are constantly receiving updates. In this article, we collected those resources that best help you track what’s going on with COVID-19 vaccines.
On vaccines and vaccination progress
What you will notice in those so-called COVID-19 vaccine trackers is that they are full of vaccine names and vaccination numbers. Even the news is populated with which countries are approving a vaccine and the number of people getting doses. As such, you might want a little more background regarding those talks before checking those numbers.
While a handful of vaccines have been approved by authorities, there are many more in development from other drug companies. These have to go through several stages of development (preclinical testing in labs on cells and animals and phases 1-3 clinical trials on humans) before being considered for approval and deployed for public availability. This takes time but is crucial in detecting serious adverse conditions.
Different types of vaccines
Then there are the types of vaccines. The most popular ones like from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are genetic vaccines; meaning that they deliver part of the virus’ genetic material into our own cells to elicit an immune response. Then there are viral vector vaccines, which are viruses carrying coronavirus genes which provoke the desired immune reaction. Examples include Sputnik V and University of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
Protein-based ones like the vaccine from Novavax contain coronavirus proteins but are without any genetic material. State-owned Chinese company Sinopharm and others developed inactivated vaccines, which are created from weakened coronavirus that doesn’t cause harm but can generate an immune response.
Finally, there are repurposed vaccines, which are already available and used for other ailments but can work against COVID-19 as well. For example, researchers found that the BCG vaccine used in Tuberculosis partly protects against the coronavirus.
Even if some vaccines fall in the same category, they differ in other ways like how their administration route or dosage is required. With over a hundred vaccines in the works with different modes of action, this raises the odds of getting more than one effective vaccine and increases their access worldwide. Hence, it makes sense to keep track of their progress to know how rigorously a vaccine has been tested and when it will be ready. And for that, the following trusted online vaccine trackers are handy.
The WHO data
Updated twice every week, the draft landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines from the WHO is the most official source of global numbers relating to vaccine development. Presented in a downloadable interactive excel sheet, it gives handy information at a glance in a summary form as well as more details in following sheets.
You’ll find the number of vaccines in both clinical and pre-clinical development; and it also allows you to track their progress across the different phases of efficacy studies. Users can further search for individual COVID-19 vaccines based on various criteria from vaccine platform to route of administration.
What you won’t find in it is the data on vaccines currently used in countries; and that’s where the other trackers come into play.
The minimalist tracker
If you don’t want to get overwhelmed by charts, numbers and figures right off the bat, a good place to head to is COVID19 Vaccine Tracker. Developed by experts from McGill University, it condenses publicly available data into 3 numbers (Vaccines, Trials, Countries) and an interactive map. The latter allows users to click on individual countries to see the number of approved vaccines, the number of vaccine trials and those on trial.
Now if you want to get into the nitty-gritty of the vaccine development, then the Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker from The New York Times is what you are looking for. This page starts simple, with the number of vaccines being tested, approved or abandoned. Then it gives a timeline of relevant milestones, updated daily. Following this, it takes readers through the vaccine development process from lab to clinic, via brief explainers. Afterwards, it breaks down the mode of action of every single vaccine on the list, whether approved or abandoned; and it also gives historical details about each.
No-frills COVID-19 vaccine tracker
Coming from the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS) is the COVID-19 vaccine tracker. Designed with a no-frills approach, the page consists of only two charts. The first one lists details of vaccines achieving regulatory authorisation or approval. As for the second, it lists those candidates in Phase 1-3 clinical trials; as well as promising ones in early development.
For those looking for additional details from those lists, this tracker reveals them with a single click of a button. These details include the vaccine’s background, related regulatory actions worldwide, clinical trials, distribution and funding.
A visual look
FasterCures, a center of the Milken Institute, has a COVID-19 tracker that’s one of the most visually appealing out there. By scrolling down the page, users can go through neat illustrations of how vaccines work, stages of their development and manufacturing. There is also a list of vaccines available and under trials.
Vaccine trackers with more than just numbers
Bloomberg is tracking what it calls “nine of the globe’s most promising vaccines” on its Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker page. Updated daily, it gives a timeline of the progress of these vaccines and when to expect the next one to be ready. It also gives context about vaccination campaigns in some countries and a general view of the global effort.
Our World In Data is also updating a dedicated Coronavirus Vaccination page daily. It consists of worldwide vaccination charts and accompanying explanations; and it even allows users to select and compare countries’ vaccination campaigns.
These two sources give more than just figures and numbers you can find in other vaccine trackers; and help give more background into what you are seeing.
But keeping an eye out for these data, from any trusted sources in this list, will help each and every one of us better understand the scale of protection against COVID-19; and when we can expect a return to normalcy. And the data also help us gauge which vaccine can most be trusted; as ultimately, the most rigorously tested ones, those showing the least adverse reactions and receiving backing from the scientific community will be the ones with the best potentials to help us all win this race.
Dr. Bertalan Mesko, PhD is The Medical Futurist and Director of The Medical Futurist Institute analyzing how science fiction technologies can become reality in medicine and healthcare. As a geek physician with a PhD in genomics, he is a keynote speaker and an Amazon Top 100 author.
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