When will we see a COVID-19 vaccine? UT Health infectious disease expert weighs in

University Health doctor we’ll 'likely’ see a vaccine in early 2021

SAN ANTONIO – It’s a question that many people are asking -- when will we see a COVID-19 vaccine?

In a recent University Health question and answer session with Dr. Jason Bowling, the infectious disease specialist broke down the steps in vaccine development and relayed his theory on why he thinks we’ll be wearing masks for a while.

Bowling also compared the similarities and differences between COVID-19 and the 1918 flu and discussed what the medical field has learned in the past century in terms of how to respond to diseases.

Watch the entire Q&A session in the video player above.

Below are a few of the questions posed to Bowling and short snippets of his answers. The full answers can be heard in the video.

How long does it normally take to make a vaccine from start to finish?

“It’s usually a very lengthy process. The entire process from start to finish takes several years - many times up to a decade by the time that you add in the clinical trials and then the vaccine production.”

What are the potential hazards if a vaccine is rushed through trials?

“If we don’t go through the standard process we may see something that we think is effective and that looks apparently safe, but without larger numbers of people we may not understand some of the problems that it might have that might come along with it - some complications or side effects that people could experience.”

When can we realistically expect a coronavirus vaccine for widespread use?

“I think the best predictions are probably at the end of 2020, so a December timeframe - but more likely early 2021.”

If so few Americans are willing to take the vaccine when it first comes out, will it really do much good?

"From a population standpoint, we do need a certain number of people to get the vaccine to get to the certain herd immunity that’s been discussed a lot in the last several months.

We do need a certain amount of people, probably at least 50-60% of people to have some protection for that herd immunity to protect people that can’t get the vaccine."

Even with a successful vaccine, is it true that we will likely be wearing masks and social/physical distancing for some time beyond that?

“We will need to continue the masks and the physical distancing to keep people safe, even after we get the results of these phase three trials for the vaccine.”

There have been lots of comparisons between COVID-19 and the 1918 flu. What are similarities and differences?

"There are similarities because that was also a pandemic - it affected a whole global community. There were a lot of deaths. But some differences that are important with that flu pandemic back in 1918 - they didn’t have any treatments. They didn’t even know the virus that was responsible until 15 years later. There was no vaccine available.

There were differences in how people approached 1918 pandemic flu. There were some communities that continued to have mass gatherings and parades and other communities that had more social distancing. And the communities that had more mass events had more cases of flu, more deaths and so I think we’ve seen some of that in 2020 with this COVID-19 pandemic as well."

What are some of the lessons of the 1918 flu?

“We need to be consistent and not get complacent with the physical distancing and masking and when the vaccine’s available we need to take advantage of that.”

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