A clinical trial testing a vaccine to protect against COVID-19 has begun in Seattle, with four patients receiving the investigational vaccine.

The research, funded by The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), in collaboration with pharmaceutical firm Moderna Inc, aims to enrol more healthy adult volunteers over the coming weeks to test the safety of the vaccine.

If the vaccine proves to be safe, further trials will determine the effectiveness of the jab.

Previous to the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at NIAID and Moderna had been collaborating on a vaccine to protect against Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which is part of the same virus family as COVID-19.

Following the outbreak of COVID-19, researchers realised that they could apply much of their work on the MERS vaccine to COVID-19, due to the virus’s similarities.

When the genetic sequencing of COVID-19 became readily available following its initial outbreak, the researchers were then able to translate much of their progress into the MERS vaccine into a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Finding a safe and effective vaccine to prevent infection with SARS-CoV-2 is an urgent public health priority,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. 

“This Phase 1 study, launched in record speed, is an important first step toward achieving that goal. ”

However, despite the rate at which researchers were able to develop the vaccine, it is expected that it will not be available for at least a year – even if proven safe and effective.

Whilst many modern vaccines use dead, inactive, or weakened forms of viruses – such as the MMR vaccine or seasonal flu – this vaccine only contains a short genetic sequence taken from the virus, meaning that it is likely harmless.

Many researchers around the world are currently working around the clock on development of a coronavirus vaccine, using a wide array of different techniques – such as in Australia, where researchers claim to have already developed an effective vaccine for COVID-19 and negotiations are in place with drug regulators.