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Why Is A Vaccine For COVID-19 Taking So Long?

With effective social distancing set to continue longer term, there’s a strong hope that COVID-19 will disappear and won’t be seen again. But with the possibility of a second wave come winter, the race for a vaccine is on.

Barrie Dowsett

Chief Executive Officer


5 minute read

With no known cure or vaccine for COVID-19 available at the time of writing, social distancing is still our best defense against catching it.

The natural drive over the last weeks and months has been in finding a coronavirus vaccine that works. After all, vaccines have saved millions of lives across the world over recent decades, including some of the most deadly diseases like polio, smallpox and mumps. Their effects are so beneficial because once the body has been vaccinated, it then builds an effective immune response to that particular disease. This means that in future, that specific disease (or strain of disease) can be fought off before an infect takes hold.


It’s very likely that a COVID-19 vaccine is at least 18 months away, and if it does hit this target it will still be the fastest a vaccine has ever been developed. Of course, whether a vaccine can be found at all, and how effective it will be against any subsequent strains of coronavirus, remains to be seen. With effective social distancing set to continue longer term, there’s a strong hope that COVID-19 will disappear and won’t be seen again. But with the possibility of a second wave come winter, the race for a vaccine is on.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines essentially mean your body has immunity to a disease so it won’t make you ill. They are made using the same virus or bacteria (or part of it) that causes the disease in the first place. However, the vaccine itself will not make a person sick because it contains a very weak or inert form of it.

Once injected, the human immune system reacts to the vaccine exactly as it would if it was being invaded by the disease. It then makes antibodies to destroy the virus/bacteria - almost as a training exercise - prompting future immunity. If the body is then ever exposed to the real disease, the antibodies will offer protection.

It’s the process of making and testing vaccines that takes the time

It takes around 12-36 months on average to produce a vaccine that is fully tested and able to be distributed. Vaccines are highly complex and subject to very strict (and long) manufacturing and control processes. In fact, quality control makes up approximately 70% of the time required to manufacture the vaccine from start to finish.

Successfully manufacturing a high-quality vaccine means making sure it adheres to international standards of production, materials, testing and regulatory oversight. Knowledge is also constantly evolving, particularly with the novel coronavirus COVID-19, adding even further to time required.

All of the vaccine’s ingredients, reagents, manufacturing processes and testing methods must also comply with the standards set out for Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). These requirements are non-negotiable and involve very specific pharmaceutical quality assurance measures and procedures as well as numerous quality controls at each step. An adequate infrastructure that can guarantee vaccine sterility, safety, purity and efficacy amongst other things is essential.

Challenges in scaling up a vaccine

Even though research is starting to yield potentially viable COVID-19 vaccine solutions, scaling them up for mass production is no small challenge. Making enough for the entire human population is a gargantuan task, and there are worries that richer countries may hoard supplies.

The production facilities required to scale up vaccine manufacture are another concern. Some researchers say private financial backers and governments should offer vaccine producers money to ramp up capacity in advance, even if the facilities are never used. However, this is yet to come fully to fruition.

Balancing the COVID-19 vaccine against the need for other vaccines

Although the novel coronavirus has occupied just about every waking moment for the world’s researchers over recent months, other diseases haven’t gone away. Resources are finite, and companies already churning out millions of flu and other vaccines per year may well need to scale this back in favour of increasing those for COVID-19. Innovation will be essential therefore in not simply building the capacity to make the COVID-19 vaccine in large enough amounts, but to continue with the same capacity already available for other vaccines. Otherwise, shortages could become more likely.

How R&D Tax Credits are financing the innovation effort

Innovation, particularly in the world of vaccine development, tends to be pricey. Whether companies are making small technological or scientific steps in their field or undergoing projects that will change the course of history, financing is crucial. This is where R&D Tax Credits come into their own.

R&D Tax Credits: The lowdown

Administered by the Irish Revenue, research and development (R&D) Tax Credits can be claimed by all Ireland-based companies that have spent money on eligible R&D activities. The scope for both projects and costs is wide, and there’s no minimum claim floor. The benefit of this highly lucrative tax incentive is also very generous, with applicable R&D expenditure bringing about a 25% tax credit for use against Corporation Tax. This is in addition to the standard tax deduction of 12.5%. So, effectively companies undergoing relevant R&D can claim a refund from the Revenue of €37.50 for every €100 of spending on R&D.

The tax credit is primarily available for offsetting the current year’s Corporation Tax liability, or that of the year immediately prior. However, R&D activities can also result in cash refunds for companies reporting a loss. If a company does not have a tax liability in the current or immediate prior period, the R&D Tax Credits will be awarded via three instalments across the next three years.

For further information about the scheme, see our R&D Tax Credits page.

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If you have any questions relating to R&D Tax Credits our Dublin-based team are here to help. We’re experts in all aspects of R&D tax claims and boast a 100% success rate so you get the money you’re owed.

Call us on +353 1 566 2001 or use our contact form so we can get back to you.

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