The Race To Save Lives: Comparing Vaccine Development Timelines

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Vaccine development timeline infographic

The Race to Save Lives: Vaccine Development Timelines

Major advancements in medicine have led to a significant increase in average life expectancy, with vaccines being hailed as one of the most successful interventions to date.

In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that vaccines have prevented 10 million deaths between 2010 and 2015 alone. But while some were created and distributed in just over four months, others have taken over 40 years to develop. Then again, previous pandemics have petered out without any vaccine at all.

With approved COVID-19 vaccines soon to be distributed across the globe, the vaccine development process is being scrutinized by experts (and non-experts) the world over.

In the graphic above, we explore how long it has historically taken to bring a vaccine to market during pandemics dating back to the 1900s, and what the process entails.

Pandemic Vaccines of the Past

Although the assumption can be made that developing a vaccine for infectious diseases has become more efficient since the 1900s, that statement is not entirely correct.

It took approximately 25 years to develop a vaccine for the Spanish Flu which killed between 40-50 million people. Similarly, it was only last year that the FDA approved the first Ebola vaccine—an effort that took 43 years since the discovery of the virus.

But while scientists and medical experts have made headway in stopping major pandemics in their tracks, some of the worst outbreaks in history have yet to be cured.

Here is a closer look at the timeframes for vaccine development for every pandemic since the turn of the 20th century:

Name of Pandemic Death Toll Timeframe for Vaccine Development Duration
Spanish flu 40-50 million 1917-1942 25 years
H2N2 Asian flu 1.1 million Feb 1957-Jun 1957 <5 months
H3N2 Hong Kong Flu 1 million Jul 1968-Nov 1968 <5 months
SARS 774 (ongoing) 2003-present 17 years (ongoing)
Ebola 11,300 1976-2019 43 years
AIDS 25-35 million (ongoing) 1981-present 39 years (ongoing)
H1N1 Swine Flu 151,700 - 575,400 Apr 2009-Sept 2009 6 months
MERS 858 (ongoing) 2012-present 8 years (ongoing)
Coronavirus 1.64 million (ongoing) Dec 2019-Nov 2020 11 months
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