The Quest for a Coronavirus Vaccine

Listen 51:26
A health worker holding a COVID-19 vaccine vial

A health worker displays a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine currently on phase III clinical trials in Instanbul on Oct. 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

Not even a year after SARS-CoV-2 was first identified, several coronavirus vaccines are now in the final stages of testing. Some people worry we’re moving too fast; others argue that “Operation Warp Speed” is not moving nearly fast enough. There’s a lot at stake — from public health, to trust in science, to the economy — and failure is not an option.

On this episode we track the quest for a coronavirus vaccine. We talk with people who’ve received trial vaccines, scientists who are developing their own, and experts about everything from supply chain issues to the ethics of who should be vaccinated first.

Also heard on this week’s episode:

  • Creating a vaccine is hard enough — but distribution might be even harder. Reporter Alan Yu explores the challenges of producing and transporting billions of doses of vaccines around the world. Thanks to David Weiner, director of the Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center at the Wistar Institute, for his help with this story.
  • We hear from two people who are volunteering as participants in a phase 3 clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine — physician and public health expert Chris Pernell, and podcaster and minister Scott Jones.
  • We talk with Paul Offit, an infectious disease physician and co-creator of the rotavirus vaccine, about the process for proving vaccines are safe and effective, as well as some of the missteps and tragic mistakes made in recent history.
  • Legal scholar Govind Persad takes on thorny ethical questions about who should get the vaccine first.
  • We talk with science journalist Olga Dobrovidova about Russia’s coronavirus vaccine — what we know about its efficacy, and why it’s getting the side-eye from the Russian public.
  • We hear from listeners about their hopes and fears about an upcoming vaccine.
  • The people of the Navajo Nation — the largest Native American reservation in the U.S. — have suffered one of the worst COVID-19 death rates of any place in the world. But when the vaccine trials came looking for volunteers, few were willing. Reporter Anthony Wallace explains why.

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