All the Top COVID-19 Vaccines Explained

Here’s a quick run down of the basics as we know it: we are in a pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus – SARS-CoV-2. The SARS-CoV-2 virus causes COVID-19 disease, which has, as of today, led to the deaths of 1.15 million people. Please be aware that although the majority of these deaths are in the elderly or in people with co-morbidities, young healthy individuals have also died from COVID-19.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), as well as top scientists worldwide – including Prof. Peter Hotez, Dr. Ian Mackay, Prof. Chris Whitty and Dr. Anthony Fauci have made is abundantly clear that we require a vaccine to bring this pandemic under control. They have also taught us that a vaccine will not end the pandemic as we know it, but will certainly help move things along.

There are currently more than 100 vaccines in development against the novel coronavirus. Many of these vaccines are in late stage Phase 3 clinical trials. To learn more about what vaccines are and how they work, check out our post here. Alternatively, you can check out our post on the vaccine developmental process here.

In this post, we aim to explain the top COVID-19 vaccines in development in as little as one paragraph. The vaccines we cover are listed below. Feel free to click on the links below to skip to information about vaccines you’d like to learn about:

Approved: *

*depending on the country you are in, these vaccines may have received either early or limited use or approval from regulatory bodies like the U.S. FDA, European Medicines Agency or the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency for full use.

Phase 3 Clinical Trials:

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What is the Oxford/AstraZeneca (ChAdOx1-nCoV) Vaccine?

Among the top COVID-19 vaccine contenders, is the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The vaccine uses a replication-defective viral vector type vaccine. In other words, the vaccine mashes up two different viruses – the SARS-CoV-2 virus and a chimpanzee adenovirus. Any genetic information required for replication are removed and replaced by genetic information for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein essential for infection mechanism. This way, the body has the blueprint of the spike protein and can learn to fend off the disease. For a jargon-free article explaining these vaccine in depth, check out our post here.

What is the Moderna Vaccine (mRNA-1273) Vaccine?

The Moderna vaccine is an mRNA type vaccine – it contains all the necessary information on how to produce the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. This information is used to make only the protein in our body in order for our body to study it. Based on the structure of the spike protein, our body lays out its “fight plan” on how to fight off disease if infected at a later date. For more on how this vaccine works, feel free to check out our blog post here.

What is Sinovac’s CoronaVac Vaccine?

CoronaVac is a vaccine of the inactivated type, being developed by Sinovac Pharmaceuticals. This means that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is harvested in bulk, and then killed/inactivated so it can no longer cause any disease — an “old school tried-and-tested” method in the science of vaccine development. The inactivated version of the virus is then injected into our body to raise a robust immune response. For more on this vaccine and how it works, check out our blog post here.

What it Cansino’s Ad5-nCoV?

Cansino’s vaccine, like the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine above, uses a replication-defective adenovirus viral vector carrying vital information about the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which is vital in causing COVID-19 infection. Using this information, our bodies are trained to fight off future infection.

What is the Unnamed Inactive Vaccine – Wuhan Vaccine?

The Wuhan Institute of Biological Products developed an inactivated vaccine, created by first harvesting the viral particles and then inactivating them using heat or chemicals. For this reason, the vaccine is similar to the CoronaVac vaccine listed above.

What is Sinopharm’s BBIBP-CorV Vaccine?

Sinopharm’s BBIBP-CorV again, like Sinovac’s CoronaVac and Wuhan’s unnamed vaccine candidate, is a vaccine of the inactivated type. Upon vaccination, our body is able to generate a diverse immune response against the virus, to protect against future infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

What is Pfizer and BioNTech’s BNT162b2 Vaccine?

Pfizer and BioNTech have collaborated with Chinese drug maker Fosun Pharma to develop an mRNA vaccine, much like the vaccine in development by Moderna. The messenger RNA in this vaccine is a pre-fusion stabilised membrane-anchored SARS-CoV-2 full-length spike protein. For a more detailed, jargon-free article on how this vaccine works, check out our post here.

What is the Russian Gam-COVID-Vac (or Sputnik V) Vaccine?

The Gam-COVID-Vac, or the Sputnik V, is a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute (Russia). This vaccine is a combination of two adenoviruses which both carry the genetic information of the coronavirus. Based on this information, our bodies learn to read/identify the virus and prevent it from causing disease.

What is Novavax’s NVX-CoV2373 Vaccine?

The NVX-CoV2373 is the COVID-19 candidate vaccine in development by Novavax. It too uses an old “tried-and-tested” method, which looks promising. The vaccine is a protein subunit type of vaccine — this essentially means that Novavax produces the spike proteins (which are vital for the SARS-CoV-2 virus to cause COVID-19 infection) are produced in bulk and then purified. The purified spike proteins are then used to provoke an immune response in our bodies, which will help us fight off any COVID-19 infection in the future. For a complete run-down of how this vaccine works and how it’s made, check out our previous post on the vaccine here.

What is Johnson & Johnson’s JNJ-78436735/Ad26.CoV2-S Vaccine?

Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical arm, Janssen, has developed another adenovirus-based vaccine against COVID-19 (JNJ-78436735/Ad26.CoV2-S). This vaccine too uses an adenovirus vector that expresses the viral spike protein normally found on the SARS-CoV-2 virus (which causes COVID-19). The adenovirus vector cannot multiply (as it normally would in disease) as essential genes required for multiplication are deleted. Upon vaccination, the individual will produce an immune response against the adenovirus AND the spike protein — thereby protecting us from COVID-19 infection in the future. For more on this vaccine, check out our post here.

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s BCG Vaccine Trial

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute is conducting research to check if the BCG vaccine (used as protection against tuberculosis) also protects from the COVID-19 causing novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. The BCG vaccine was invented in the 1900s and is used to this day for the prevention of tuberculosis (TB). Phase 3 trials using this vaccine are currently ongoing.

What is the Bharat BioTech’s Covaxin Vaccine?

Bharat BioTech’s Covaxin is based on an inactivated form of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (similar to Sinopharm’s CoronaVac). Since the virus is inactivated, it does not have the potential to replicate or infect the human that is infected.

What is the Medicago-GSK Coronavirus-Like Particle (CoVLP)?

The Medicago COVID-19 vaccine candidate has turned a lot of heads as this is a plant-based vaccine. The candidate utilises a technology known as Virus-Like Particles (VLP), which mimic the structure of the novel coronavirus. The particle contains no genetic material from the actual virus.

What is the Anhui Zhifei Longcom’s ZF2001 Vaccine?

Anhui Zhiefei Longcom have partnered with the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences to bring their vaccine candidate to Phase 3 clinical trials. The vaccine is composed of the Receptor Binding Domain (RBD) section of the spike protein of the coronavirus – in other words, this is the most vital section of the spike protein and enables the communication and binding to ACE2 receptors on the surface of our cells. Building immunity against only the RBD section alone without the rest of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is therefore a great strategy to prevent infection by the novel coronavirus.

What is the AnGes AG0302-COVID19 Vaccine?

The AnGes AG0302-COVID19 vaccine is of the DNA type. Here, a circular piece of DNA (called a plasmid) encoding the spike protein characteristic to the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) will be injected into the body of the vaccine recipient. This will encourage our body to make spike proteins. Once the spike proteins are made, they will stimulate our immune system to make antibodies against the virus.

What is the Institute of Medical Biology at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences’ Vaccine?

The vaccine being developed by researchers at the Institute of Medical Biology at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences is yet another vaccine of the inactivated type. The virus is harvested in bulk and then killed/inactivated so it can no longer cause disease. The vaccine recipient is then exposed to the inactivated virus, which stimulates an immune response against the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

What is the GSK-Clover Biopharmaceuticals’ COVID-19 Vaccine?

Clover biopharmaceuticals have collaborated with GSK to develop a coronavirus vaccine candidate based on the spike protein. For their collaboration, GSK will provide Clover with its adjuvant system, which will stimulate the immune system to respond to the protein based vaccine in a more effective way. To learn more about this vaccine, feel free to check out this news release by GSK.

What is Vector Institute’s EpiVacCorona Vaccine?

This vaccine is slightly different to the other vaccines discussed so far. Vector Institute’s EpiVacCorona contains small portions of viral proteins that are chemically made to ensure they resemble proteins from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These are then “stuck” to other carrier proteins that carry the SARS-CoV-2 virus’ proteins to essential cells that can then further activate the immune system.

What is CureVac’s CVnCoV Vaccine?

This is another mRNA vaccine (like the Moderna vaccine) that is in development in Germany.

What is Kazakhstan’s QazCovid Vacine?

This is another vaccine of the inactivated type, much like the vaccine developed by Sinovac.

What is the Zydus Cadila (aka ZyCoV-D) vaccine?

Zydus are developing a DNA vaccine that can be delivered to a vaccine recipient via a skin patch. The vaccine candidate was found to elicit a strong immune response in multiple animal studies (of mice, guinea pigs and rabbits), before being given the green light for human studies.

All the vaccines listed above are being studied for use against the novel coronavirus and are in the final phase of development. We will continue to update this list as more vaccines enter Phase 3 clinical trials.

For the latest news on these vaccines delivered to your inbox, please remember to sign up to our weekly COVID-19 vaccine newsletter below:

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8 Replies to “All the Top COVID-19 Vaccines Explained”

  1. Thanks for the update.
    Surprisingly, there are very few resources out there that have it all summarized like you have done. Good show!


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