In the stock pandemic movie, scientists are frantically working on concoctions to stop the spread of a newly emerging virus—and by the end, voila, they succeed and save the world. In the real world, vaccines played limited, if any, roles in slowing the Zika epidemic that walloped Latin America in 2016, the devastating 2014–16 West African Ebola epidemic, and the pandemic flu that began to circulate in 2009. The shots just weren’t ready in time.
This time, with infections of a novel coronavirus exploding in China—case numbers soared to more than 2700 the past 24 hours—and racing around the world, scientists contend they are better prepared than ever to produce a vaccine at Hollywood speed. Of course, the 2019-novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), as it is now dubbed, has a solid lead in the race, and by the time a vaccine proves its worth in a clinical trial and manufacturers scale up production, it once again may be too late to make a significant dent in the course of the epidemic. But scientists hope they can make a difference.