How Were The Vaccines Developed?

The Process Isn’t New 

Quick Summary: Scientists have spent years figuring out how to make vaccines like these, so they already had the knowledge and tools to make COVID-19 vaccines quickly (they didn’t start from scratch).

Some people are worried about the safety of the vaccines because they seemed like they were developed too quickly. The truth is, the science behind making mRNA vaccines has been around for decades. Because scientists already had the process and the know-how, they were able to create the COVID-19 vaccine very quickly. It is also worth noting that these vaccines were held to the same safety and effectiveness standards as other vaccines we use in the United States.

A sketch of two lightning bolts.

It Took a Lot of Money and Resources

Quick Summary: To get safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines developed quickly, a ton of money was spent, and a lot of scientists worked on it.

One of the reasons that most vaccines take longer to develop is that there aren’t a lot of people working on them. Because COVID-19 is a pandemic, many wealthy countries wanted this vaccine to be developed because suddenly they were at risk. COVID-19 impacts everyone, which meant wealthy governments cared enough to put a ton of money into it, and a bunch of scientists who would normally be doing other things started working on it. It is a sad truth that diseases that only infect countries with fewer resources or people whose governments don’t care as much about them do not get developed as quickly. Although this is a sad reality, it does explain why the COVID-19 vaccine was released so quickly. In the 1980s and 1990s, people in power in the United States and other wealthy countries thought that HIV and AIDS only impacted LGBTQ+ people and people in Africa, so they didn't care and didn't put much money or work into developing vaccines or treatments. For COVID-19, they put in the work they should have put in for HIV and AIDS from the start.

A sketch of three people holding hands. The left-most person is holding a pride flag. Each is wearing a mask.

Applying the Science to HIV Vaccines

Quick Summary: Based on some of the new things learned when making the COVID-19 vaccines, new HIV vaccines have been developed.

Scientists learned a lot from the development of the COVID-19 vaccines. We knew generally how to make mRNA vaccines, but from COVID-19, we learned how to perfect the process for retroviruses in particular. Retroviruses are a specific kind of virus—the most famous retrovirus is HIV—and thanks to what was learned from developing the COVID-19 vaccine, scientists are now developing and safely testing an HIV vaccine.

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