• By Vivien Williams

Working toward a COVID-19 vaccine

April 1, 2020

The push to create a vaccine that prevents people from contracting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, continues. Dr. Stacey Rizza, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases specialist, says developing a vaccine takes research, money and time.

"Everyone wants to have a vaccine ready right now," says Dr. Rizza. "Researchers around the globe and at Mayo Clinic are working as fast as they can to make it happen. But before we have a vaccine for general use, we have to make sure it is properly developed and tested."

Dr. Rizza says that Mayo Clinic is heavily involved in vaccine development for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, investigating several different approaches. In addition, Mayo Clinic is in discussions with biotechnology firms and pharmaceutical companies about co-developing and testing additional vaccine possibilities.

Watch: Dr. Rizza discusses development of a COVID-19 vaccine

Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites with Dr. Rizza are in the downloads at the end of the post. Please courtesy "Stacey Rizza, M.D. / Infectious Diseases / Mayo Clinic."

When will a vaccine be ready?

"We're quite a ways away from that happening," says Dr. Rizza. "First, we have to have a much better understanding of the virology and the immunology, or the human's response to the virus."

How do researchers develop vaccines?

"In the process of developing a vaccine, first you see if it causes an immune response," says Dr. Rizza. "Then you test to make sure it's safe in humans. Next you test to make sure it actually works and prevents infection. That process takes many months to years, and we're only in what I would call the first few steps of the process."

With the COVID-19 vaccine, researchers are not starting from scratch, says Rizza. Information learned from other coronaviruses has given them a head start.

"This virus is very similar in its structure to the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus that affected humans a number of years ago," says Dr. Rizza. "So we did have some science from that virus and did have some early vaccine candidates. But we cannot depend on having an effective, safe vaccine for quite a while." 

Dr. Rizza says a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 is a top priority, and researchers are racing to develop one that stops the spread of the disease.

What can you do to prevent COVID-19 now?

You can prevent the spread of COVID-19 by taking these steps:

  • Stay at a distance of at least 6 feet from other people.
  • Wash hands regularly with soap and water. If that's not possible, use hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Monitor daily for symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath.
  • Call your health care provider or local hospital if symptoms develop to see if you should be tested for COVID-19.

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Check the Centers for disease Control and Prevention website for additional updates on COVID-19. For more information and all your COVID-19 coverage, go to the Mayo Clinic News Network and mayoclinic.org.

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