How was it possible to produce COVID-19 vaccines so rapidly?

The practice of taking 5-10 years to produce a vaccine does not apply anymore with the availability of new technologies. The COVID-19 vaccines were developed using a new technology — The messenger RNA vaccine (mRNA). Older vaccines  typically require a lot of virus to first be produced. But mRNA vaccines and other new vaccine technologies do not. They rely on materials that can be synthesized in a laboratory with no virus needed. This makes them very quick to develop. Scientists have acquired a lot of experience on how to effectively deliver the mRNA to the cells from previous experience with Zika, rabies and influenza mRNA vaccines which went through early phases of clinical trials. Consequently for the mRNA vaccines, the technique was just waiting for the genomic sequence of the SARS-CoV2, which was made available by Chinese scientists within weeks of isolating the virus.  So, the scientists did not start from scratch.

COVID-19  production was supported by the highest number of scientists collaborating on a common virus ever witnessed.  Across the globe, scientists worked together  to find a vaccine, sharing data and knowledge in real time. This significantly reduced  research time by years. Moreover, funding was not a challenge as massive amounts of money were pumped into the process by rich governments and private organizations.

Another time-consuming phase of any research is the time the regulatory body takes to study and approve drugs, this also usually takes years and are mostly done at the end of the research. But because of time and the urgency to save lives, instead of the regulatory boards waiting for both researchers and manufacturers to finish  each stage of  the research and wait for approval from the regulatory boards, they all worked hand in hand through-out the research and trials processes to ensure faster approvals. This is known as rolling review method which was adapted during the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

Usually, it takes time to recruit volunteers for clinical trial. But during the pandemic, a lot of people volunteered to be tested for the new vaccine. Availability of  a lot of volunteers reduced trial times significantly. And finally, instead of putting the candidate vaccines on the usual long waiting list, approval was expedited by prioritizing them while adhering to required protocols, both scientific and legal.