(CNN)Control of the Covid-19 pandemic remains elusive. There are now more than 3.4 million cases around the world, with thousands of people dying every day. Given limited treatment options and the difficulties of sustaining social distancing, many people see a vaccine as the only viable path forward.
But when will a Covid-19 vaccine be available?
I have no idea. And I promise, neither does anyone else. This is a heated moment with too much hope, too much fear, and too much on the line for anyone to have clear-eyed perspective. That said, for me, fall 2020 seems overly ambitious; even January 2021 is quite early for a safe and effective vaccine to be available for millions of people.
Vaccines usually take years to develop; CanSinoBIO, a leading company in Beijing, recently received praise for moving an Ebola vaccine from concept to approval in just a little more than three years.
Why it is so difficult? After all, the basic approach to vaccine development has remained more or less the same for the past 200 years: trick the immune system into developing protection against a specific infection, be it smallpox or rotavirus.
Von der Leyen: I hope US will join vaccine conference
Von der Leyen: I hope US will join vaccine conference 02:26
Sure, the scientific sleight of hand has changed dramatically. We have moved from injecting live pathogens, to killed pathogens, to weakened but still alive pathogens to injecting genetic scraps from the pathogen using the latest techniques. But chicanery has remained the basic MO.
Given all this know-how and our powerful computers, brilliant vaccine experts, lab space and plenty of money, many still wonder why we can’t just muscle our way forward.
Alas, it turns out that the modern age, though surely higher tech than the eras that came before, is still not up to the task of medical miracles on demand. Human biology remains far too complex for our minds (and our computers) to comprehend.
That said, this is an exciting moment. On April 30, the World Health Organization posted an up-to-date inventory of Covid-19 vaccine initiatives. The list included eight trials — half of which are in China — currently enrolling human volunteers, and 94 trials still in pre-clinical development.
In addition, health agencies, pharmaceutical and biotech companies, and researchers have pledged to collaborate closely across countries and scientific communities.