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The Race to Save Lives: Comparing Vaccine Development Timelines

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The Race to Save Lives: Vaccine Development Timelines

View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.

Major advancements in medicine have led to a significant increase in average life expectancy, with vaccines being hailed as one of the most successful interventions to date.

In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that vaccines have prevented 10 million deaths between 2010 and 2015 alone. But while some were created and distributed in just over four months, others have taken over 40 years to develop. Then again, previous pandemics have petered out without any vaccine at all.

With approved COVID-19 vaccines soon to be distributed across the globe, the vaccine development process is being scrutinized by experts (and non-experts) the world over.

In the graphic above, we explore how long it has historically taken to bring a vaccine to market during pandemics dating back to the 1900s, and what the process entails.

Pandemic Vaccines of the Past

Although the assumption can be made that developing a vaccine for infectious diseases has become more efficient since the 1900s, that statement is not entirely correct.

It took approximately 25 years to develop a vaccine for the Spanish Flu which killed between 40-50 million people. Similarly, it was only last year that the FDA approved the first Ebola vaccine—an effort that took 43 years since the discovery of the virus.

But while scientists and medical experts have made headway in stopping major pandemics in their tracks, some of the worst outbreaks in history have yet to be cured.

Here is a closer look at the timeframes for vaccine development for every pandemic since the turn of the 20th century:

Name of Pandemic
Death TollTimeframe for Vaccine DevelopmentDuration
Spanish flu40-50 million1917-194225 years
H2N2 Asian flu1.1 millionFeb 1957-Jun 1957<5 months
H3N2 Hong Kong Flu1 millionJul 1968-Nov 1968<5 months
SARS774 (ongoing)2003-present17 years (ongoing)
Ebola11,3001976-201943 years
AIDS25-35 million (ongoing)1981-present39 years (ongoing)
H1N1 Swine Flu151,700 - 575,400Apr 2009-Sept 20096 months
MERS858 (ongoing)2012-present8 years (ongoing)
Coronavirus1.64 million (ongoing)Dec 2019-Nov 202011 months

When it comes to the speedy development of a COVID-19 vaccine, funding has played a vital role. With case numbers growing at an alarming rate, demand and urgency for a vaccine are high. In the U.S., the government paid Pfizer and BioNTech almost $2 billion for 100 million doses of a safe vaccine for COVID-19. This level of support from governments the world over means that pharmaceutical giants have less financial uncertainties to deal with compared to other vaccines.

Even though the global endeavor to distribute COVID-19 vaccines is now underway, many experts are concerned that the pace of approval could compromise long-term safety—but there are rigorous steps a vaccine must first go through before it is approved.

The Journey of a Vaccine Candidate

On average, it takes 10 years to develop a vaccine. According to the CDC, there are six stages involved in the process from start to finish:

  1. Exploratory stage: This stage typically consists of basic lab research that can last anywhere from 2 to 4 years.
  2. Pre-clinical stage: This stage uses tissue-culture or cell-culture systems and animal testing to give researchers an idea of how humans might respond to a candidate vaccine.
  3. Clinical development: Within the clinical development stage, there are three phases. Phase 1 examines the response of a small group of people to a candidate vaccine. Phase 2 involves giving the candidate vaccine to a larger group of people to study its safety, immunogenicity, proposed doses, schedule of immunizations, and method of delivery. In Phase 3, the vaccine is given to thousands of people to further test for efficacy and safety.
  4. Regulatory review and approval: National Regulatory Authorities are responsible for the approval of vaccines in different countries. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) regulates all U.S. vaccines.
  5. Manufacturing: Typically, it can take anywhere from 6 to 36 months to produce, package, and deliver a high quality vaccine.
  6. Quality control: Different batches of a vaccine are continuously tested by different authorities around the world to ensure its ongoing safety.

Despite these lengthy timeframes, the COVID-19 vaccines and subsequent candidates have overturned the conventional process due to their unconventional technology.

Innovative Technologies Driving COVID’s Cure

Even though there are no approved vaccines for other coronaviruses such as MERS and SARS, previous research into these diseases has helped identify potential solutions for COVID-19 using messenger RNA (mRNA) technology.

“The mRNA vaccine platform technology [which the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine uses] has been in development for over two decades.”

—Dr Zoltán Kis, Imperial College London.

The technology instructs our bodies to produce a small part of the COVID-19 virus called a spike protein. This triggers the immune system to make antibodies to fight against it and prepares the body for an actual COVID-19 infection.

Containing COVID-19 Batch-by-Batch

Deployment of a safe and effective vaccine could have the potential to save millions of lives and prevent infection for many more.

Although some experts have criticized the speed of vaccine candidate approvals, the quality will be closely monitored on a batch-by-batch basis.

With the COVID-19 crisis showing no signs of slowing down, most of us continue to live in hope that the light is at the end of the tunnel.

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Charted: The World’s Aging Population from 1950 to 2100

This graphic visualizes the world’s aging population, showing data for every country and territory around the world.

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Charted: The World’s Aging Population from 1950 to 2100

As demographics continue to shift in the 21st century, the world’s aging population will continue to be a focal point for many global decision makers.

Most countries around the world have experienced population explosions, or are about to. Combine this with declining birth rates and falling mortality rates, and it’s clear that the global senior population will continue to reach new heights.

These graphics by Pablo Alvarez use data from the 2022 UN World Population Prospects to visualize this increasing aging population across countries.

The World’s Aging Population from 1950 to 2100

In 2022, there were 771 million people aged 65+ years globally, accounting for almost 10% of the world’s population.

This segment has been growing at an increasing rate, and it’s expected to hit 16% in 2050, and eventually 24% by 2100. Here’s what that’s projected to look like, for every country and territory.

Country by Population Aged +65 Years195020222100
🇦🇫 Afghanistan2.85%2.39%16.03%
🇦🇱 Albania6.04%16.66%49.08%
🇩🇿 Algeria3.49%6.39%28.83%
🇦🇸 American Samoa2.38%7.27%45.41%
🇦🇩 Andorra10.02%14.98%37.04%
🇦🇴 Angola2.93%2.6%12.07%
🇦🇮 Anguilla3.69%10.71%37.49%
🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda4.14%10.63%35.4%
🇦🇷 Argentina4.13%11.92%31.79%
🇦🇲 Armenia8.17%13.15%36.13%
🇦🇼 Aruba1.77%16.15%36.51%
🇦🇺 Australia8.17%16.9%31.38%
🇦🇹 Austria10.42%19.81%33.93%
🇦🇿 Azerbaijan6.89%7.11%30.5%
🇧🇸 Bahamas4.76%8.89%29.58%
🇧🇭 Bahrain2.88%3.76%21.89%
🇧🇩 Bangladesh3.9%6.04%32.56%
🇧🇧 Barbados5.24%16.28%33.19%
🇧🇾 Belarus8.24%17.18%30.45%
🇧🇪 Belgium11.03%19.73%32.83%
🇧🇿 Belize3.57%5.09%29.21%
🇧🇯 Benin7.85%3.06%11.03%
🇧🇲 Bermuda5.71%20.41%37.73%
🇧🇹 Bhutan2.53%6.25%33.35%
🇧🇴 Bolivia6.11%4.85%21.75%
🇧🇶 Bonaire Sint Eustatius and Saba14.22%13.84%28.94%
🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina3.95%18.4%36.4%
🇧🇼 Botswana4.32%3.65%17.96%
🇧🇷 Brazil2.39%9.88%33.52%
🇻🇬 British Virgin Islands8.63%9.95%32.47%
🇧🇳 Brunei4.85%6.17%30.93%
🇧🇬 Bulgaria6.66%22.38%37.13%
🇧🇫 Burkina Faso2.01%2.53%13.07%
🇧🇮 Burundi3.22%2.48%13.23%
🇰🇭 Cambodia2.67%5.81%26.43%
🇨🇲 Cameroon3.47%2.67%11.89%
🇨🇦 Canada7.7%19.03%31.55%
🇨🇻 Cape Verde3.67%5.55%32.63%
🇰🇾 Cayman Islands6.05%8.17%28.75%
🇨🇫 Central African Republic5.%2.51%11.43%
🇹🇩 Chad4.33%2.01%9.64%
🇨🇱 Chile3.3%13.03%36.61%
🇨🇳 China5.04%13.72%40.93%
🇨🇴 Colombia3.22%9.%34.49%
🇰🇲 Comoros3.8%4.28%17.81%
🇨🇬 Congo3.36%2.72%11.99%
🇨🇰 Cook Islands2.94%11.73%29.75%
🇨🇷 Costa Rica2.97%10.83%36.99%
🇨🇮 Cote d'Ivoire2.21%2.4%10.86%
🇭🇷 Croatia7.82%22.36%37.03%
🇨🇺 Cuba4.36%15.81%36.31%
🇨🇼 Curacao5.82%14.95%30.46%
🇨🇾 Cyprus5.95%14.83%33.36%
🇨🇿 Czechia8.29%20.64%26.94%
🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of Congo3.77%2.92%10.62%
🇩🇰 Denmark9.04%20.49%30.45%
🇩🇯 Djibouti1.99%4.54%19.68%
🇩🇲 Dominica7.67%9.53%34.28%
🇩🇴 Dominican Republic2.72%7.4%30.47%
🇪🇨 Ecuador5.2%7.83%31.97%
🇪🇬 Egypt2.95%4.83%21.77%
🇸🇻 El Salvador3.93%8.22%36.02%
🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea5.53%3.12%15.13%
🇪🇷 Eritrea3.2%4.01%19.86%
🇪🇪 Estonia10.56%20.58%34.15%
🇸🇿 Eswatini2.68%4.%16.26%
🇪🇹 Ethiopia3.01%3.14%18.6%
🇫🇴 Faeroe Islands7.59%17.92%26.91%
🇫🇰 Falkland Islands8.27%11.08%35.86%
🇫🇯 Fiji5.99%5.9%20.6%
🇫🇮 Finland6.63%23.27%34.04%
🇫🇷 France11.39%21.66%34.23%
🇬🇫 French Guiana7.96%5.98%21.13%
🇵🇫 French Polynesia3.%10.07%37.85%
🇬🇦 Gabon7.21%3.89%16.25%
🇬🇲 Gambia2.5%2.43%16.06%
🇬🇪 Georgia9.35%14.61%31.19%
🇩🇪 Germany9.46%22.41%33.72%
🇬🇭 Ghana4.62%3.55%15.91%
🇬🇮 Gibraltar6.94%20.84%37.63%
🇬🇷 Greece6.8%22.82%37.52%
🇬🇱 Greenland3.06%10.02%29.16%
🇬🇩 Grenada5.12%10.07%30.54%
🇬🇵 Guadeloupe5.51%20.04%34.45%
🇬🇺 Guam1.11%11.84%31.19%
🇬🇹 Guatemala2.31%4.91%28.05%
🇬🇬 Guernsey11.96%16.64%35.4%
🇬🇳 Guinea5.39%3.32%14.%
🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau3.45%2.82%14.34%
🇬🇾 Guyana3.89%6.28%28.94%
🇭🇹 Haiti3.64%4.54%19.07%
🇭🇳 Honduras3.96%4.27%26.5%
🇭🇰 Hong Kong2.48%20.47%41.64%
🇭🇺 Hungary7.81%20.01%31.85%
🇮🇸 Iceland7.52%15.33%34.25%
🇮🇳 India3.1%6.9%29.81%
🇮🇩 Indonesia1.74%6.86%25.28%
🇮🇷 Iran5.22%7.62%33.72%
🇮🇶 Iraq2.79%3.41%18.44%
🇮🇪 Ireland10.99%15.14%32.48%
🇮🇲 Isle of Man13.9%22.29%31.8%
🇮🇱 Israel4.%12.04%25.97%
🇮🇹 Italy8.09%24.05%38.19%
🇯🇲 Jamaica3.83%7.45%44.05%
🇯🇵 Japan4.89%29.92%38.7%
🇯🇪 Jersey12.34%16.22%30.52%
🇯🇴 Jordan5.03%3.84%27.3%
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan6.47%8.04%19.58%
🇰🇪 Kenya5.28%2.87%16.98%
🇰🇮 Kiribati7.13%3.81%17.33%
🇽🇰 Kosovo5.33%10.19%43.35%
🇰🇼 Kuwait2.88%4.93%31.56%
🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan7.91%4.54%21.08%
🇱🇦 Laos2.13%4.45%25.24%
🇱🇻 Latvia10.12%21.86%32.86%
🇱🇧 Lebanon7.24%9.89%32.11%
🇱🇸 Lesotho6.34%4.2%13.44%
🇱🇷 Liberia2.97%3.31%13.88%
🇱🇾 Libya5.21%4.86%27.77%
🇱🇮 Liechtenstein7.89%19.37%34.79%
🇱🇹 Lithuania8.65%20.8%32.79%
🇱🇺 Luxembourg9.71%15.03%31.55%
🇲🇴 Macao3.11%13.%32.39%
🇲🇬 Madagascar3.25%3.35%16.21%
🇲🇼 Malawi3.06%2.61%15.61%
🇲🇾 Malaysia4.91%7.5%30.78%
🇲🇻 Maldives3.14%4.78%35.61%
🇲🇱 Mali2.78%2.38%11.%
🇲🇹 Malta7.42%19.13%38.26%
🇲🇭 Marshall Islands5.68%4.56%17.8%
🇲🇶 Martinique5.85%22.77%37.31%
🇲🇷 Mauritania1.44%3.22%15.03%
🇲🇺 Mauritius3.18%12.79%33.76%
🇾🇹 Mayotte6.61%2.88%18.15%
🇲🇽 Mexico2.99%8.32%34.88%
🇫🇲 Micronesia (country)4.11%6.16%27.59%
🇲🇩 Moldova7.56%12.98%26.36%
🇲🇨 Monaco15.64%35.92%30.16%
🇲🇳 Mongolia3.87%4.61%26.18%
🇲🇪 Montenegro7.85%16.55%34.16%
🇲🇸 Montserrat7.92%17.7%33.05%
🇲🇦 Morocco2.86%7.72%29.97%
🇲🇿 Mozambique3.13%2.57%13.43%
🇲🇲 Myanmar3.21%6.82%23.69%
🇳🇦 Namibia4.1%3.97%15.38%
🇳🇷 Nauru8.98%2.5%15.87%
🇳🇵 Nepal2.74%6.09%29.51%
🇳🇱 Netherlands7.76%20.31%32.89%
🇳🇨 New Caledonia5.%11.02%31.61%
🇳🇿 New Zealand9.09%16.31%33.2%
🇳🇮 Nicaragua2.71%5.29%28.92%
🇳🇪 Niger.92%2.4%9.76%
🇳🇬 Nigeria3.%2.97%12.31%
🇳🇺 Niue4.79%15.16%22.55%
🇰🇵 North Korea2.72%11.71%30.49%
🇲🇰 North Macedonia5.87%14.91%36.56%
🇲🇵 Northern Mariana Islands2.95%10.81%32.09%
🇳🇴 Norway9.52%18.44%31.65%
🇴🇲 Oman3.05%2.76%23.96%
🇵🇰 Pakistan5.48%4.27%17.23%
🇵🇼 Palau8.59%9.93%21.48%
🇵🇸 Palestine4.77%3.53%23.44%
🇵🇦 Panama3.57%8.77%30.03%
🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea1.09%3.19%16.81%
🇵🇾 Paraguay3.73%6.26%26.51%
🇵🇪 Peru3.43%8.41%30.33%
🇵🇭 Philippines3.56%5.44%23.38%
🇵🇱 Poland5.22%18.55%35.69%
🇵🇹 Portugal7.%22.9%36.28%
🇵🇷 Puerto Rico3.63%22.93%48.9%
🇶🇦 Qatar3.5%1.52%15.01%
🇷🇪 Reunion3.81%13.28%32.4%
🇷🇴 Romania7.16%18.64%32.22%
🇷🇺 Russia4.8%15.8%27.86%
🇷🇼 Rwanda2.76%3.2%17.36%
🇧🇱 Saint Barthlemy7.3%10.61%43.89%
🇸🇭 Saint Helena8.63%28.66%32.61%
🇰🇳 Saint Kitts and Nevis5.36%10.13%29.79%
🇱🇨 Saint Lucia3.59%9.23%33.39%
🇲🇫 Saint Martin (French part)4.47%11.14%30.08%
🇵🇲 Saint Pierre and Miquelon6.34%17.32%33.4%
🇻🇨 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines7.71%10.86%32.34%
🇼🇸 Samoa2.52%5.22%18.75%
🇸🇲 San Marino10.15%20.47%35.73%
🇸🇹 Sao Tome and Principe3.92%3.76%15.6%
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia3.32%2.81%30.28%
🇸🇳 Senegal3.42%3.14%16.54%
🇷🇸 Serbia6.15%20.56%37.55%
🇸🇨 Seychelles10.68%8.16%28.84%
🇸🇱 Sierra Leone3.02%3.14%15.52%
🇸🇬 Singapore2.29%15.12%36.51%
🇸🇽 Sint Maarten (Dutch part)12.03%10.57%34.51%
🇸🇰 Slovakia6.63%16.98%33.4%
🇸🇮 Slovenia7.52%20.96%33.59%
🇸🇧 Solomon Islands4.03%3.47%15.29%
🇸🇴 Somalia2.6%2.57%10.75%
🇿🇦 South Africa4.06%5.89%20.55%
🇰🇷 South Korea2.74%17.49%44.44%
🇸🇸 South Sudan3.48%2.89%13.11%
🇪🇸 Spain7.23%20.27%38.72%
🇱🇰 Sri Lanka8.76%11.54%35.73%
🇸🇩 Sudan3.03%3.5%13.28%
🇸🇷 Suriname4.09%7.39%25.8%
🇸🇪 Sweden10.19%20.25%31.83%
🇨🇭 Switzerland9.49%19.31%32.61%
🇸🇾 Syria7.66%4.68%24.62%
🇹🇼 Taiwan2.11%16.71%37.32%
🇹🇯 Tajikistan4.34%3.47%19.43%
🇹🇿 Tanzania2.2%3.1%14.97%
🇹🇭 Thailand3.21%15.21%39.17%
🇹🇱 Timor3.14%5.21%25.42%
🇹🇬 Togo4.29%3.13%11.77%
🇹🇰 Tokelau4.7%8.66%25.03%
🇹🇴 Tonga4.6%6.22%21.65%
🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago3.93%11.52%32.67%
🇹🇳 Tunisia4.4%9.02%31.24%
🇹🇷 Turkey3.77%8.64%33.9%
🇹🇲 Turkmenistan5.84%5.15%21.55%
🇹🇨 Turks and Caicos Islands5.79%10.34%28.25%
🇹🇻 Tuvalu4.98%6.48%16.15%
🇺🇬 Uganda2.87%1.69%14.33%
🇺🇦 Ukraine7.54%18.81%33.2%
🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates3.35%1.83%15.77%
🇬🇧 United Kingdom10.84%19.17%32.56%
🇺🇸 United States8.18%17.13%30.47%
🇻🇮 United States Virgin Islands7.54%20.42%39.11%
🇺🇾 Uruguay8.23%15.58%35.98%
🇺🇿 Uzbekistan5.87%5.14%22.24%
🇻🇺 Vanuatu5.65%3.74%16.29%
🇻🇪 Venezuela2.29%8.61%27.71%
🇻🇳 Vietnam4.13%9.12%30.02%
🇼🇫 Wallis and Futuna1.76%13.47%32.98%
🇪🇭 Western Sahara2.82%5.84%23.73%
🇾🇪 Yemen3.98%2.66%18.25%
🇿🇲 Zambia2.76%1.75%12.66%
🇿🇼 Zimbabwe3.18%3.32%14.22%
🌐 World5.13%9.82%24.03%

Some of the places with high elderly shares today include high-income countries like Japan (30%), Italy (24%), and Finland (23%).

The lowest shares are concentrated in the Middle East and Africa. Many countries have just 2% of their population aged 65 years and older, such as Qatar, Uganda, and Afghanistan.

But over time, almost all countries are expected to see their older population segments grow. In just three decades, it is estimated that one-in-four European, North American, and Asian residents will be over 65 years of age.

By 2100, a variety of Asian countries and island nations facing low population growth are expected to see more than one-third of their populations aged 65 years or older, including South Korea and Jamaica at 44%. However, it’s actually Albania that’s the biggest outlier overall, with a projected 49% of its population to be aged 65 and older by 2100.

Passing the Generational Torch

The challenge of an aging population is set to impact all sectors of society, including labor and financial markets, demand for housing and transportation, and especially family structures and intergenerational ties.

One way to help grasp the nature of transition is to note the changing ratio between seniors and young children in the world population, as seen in the below crossover diagram:

Elderly population surpass that of children aged 5 and below

Dropping fertility rates, in addition to improved child and infant mortality rates, are known to have played a major role in the plateauing population of children.

However, not all countries have witnessed this crossover yet, as it usually coincides with higher levels of economic development.

As countries such as India, Brazil, and South Africa reach higher levels of per capita income, they will be likely to follow down the paths of more advanced economies, eventually experiencing similar demographic fates and challenges.

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