Illustration: Kieran Blakey

The Nuance

Is a Covid-19 Vaccine Actually Possible?

Experts are optimistic, but new vaccine ‘platforms’ are relatively untested

Published in
6 min readJun 18, 2020


Since the earliest days of America’s Covid-19 crisis, Anthony Fauci, the White House’s top coronavirus expert and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said that — best case scenario — a vaccine could be ready within a year to 18 months.

In an interview published on June 8 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Fauci stated that if one of the several vaccines currently in trial proves effective, hundreds of millions of doses could be ready by early 2021. “I’m cautiously optimistic that, with the multiple candidates that we have with different platforms, we’re going to have a vaccine that shows a degree of efficacy that would make it deployable,” he said.

Fauci’s mention of different “platforms” may not have meant much to lay readers. But the scientific community is intensely aware of these next-gen vaccine-development technologies and processes that Fauci was talking about. The vaccines that these new platforms aim to create are easier to produce quickly and in volume, which is one reason why the usual “decade or more” timeline for vaccine development has shrunk to less than two years.

But two of the new platforms that are generating the most hype and optimism are also largely unproven. “They’re so new, in fact, that a commercial vaccine has never been brought to market using either one of them,” says Mark Cameron, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.

Cameron says that he’s “as hopeful as anyone else,” but that some big hurdles still stand between humanity and a safe, effective Covid-19 vaccine.

The new platforms that are leading the way are fundamentally different in that they…



Markham Heid

I’m a long-time contributor at TIME and other media orgs. I write mostly about health. I grew up in Michigan, but these days I live in southwest Germany.