What are the technology methods used in the development of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines?

Updated: Feb 28, 2021
  • Author: David J Cennimo, MD, FAAP, FACP, AAHIVS; more...
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In addition to the complexity of finding the most effective vaccine candidates, the production process is also important for manufacturing the vaccine to the scale needed globally. Other variables that increase complexity of distribution include storage requirements (eg, frozen vs refrigerated) and if more than a single injection is required for optimal immunity. Several technological methods (eg, DNA, RNA, inactivated, viral vector, protein subunit) are available for vaccine development. Vaccine attributes (eg, number of doses, speed of development, scalability) depend on the type of technological method employed. [5, 6, 7]  

Some methods have been used in previous vaccines, whereas others are more newly developed. For example, mRNA vaccines for influenza, rabies, and Zika virus have been previously tested in animals. [8]  

Examples of advantages and disadvantages of the various vaccine technologies are included in Table 1. [6, 7, 8]

Table 1. Vaccine Platform Characteristics (Open Table in a new window)

Platform Attributes  Doses Vaccine Candidate (Manufacturer)
mRNA Fast development; low-to-medium manufacturing scale 2

BNT-162b2 (Pfizer, BioNTech);

mRNA-1273 (Moderna)

DNA Fast development; medium manufacturing scale 2 INO-4800 (Inovio)
Viral vector Medium speed of development; high manufacturing scale 1 or 2

AZD-1222 Ad5-CoV (AstraZeneca; Oxford University);

Ad26.COV2.S (Johnson & Johnson)

Protein subunit Medium-to-fast development; high manufacturing scale  2 NVX-CoV2373 (Novavax)


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