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How did they do it so fast?

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19 October 2021

By: Mike Young

If you’re anything like me you will have had numerous people sharing their concerns about the speed at which the COVID-19 vaccines were developed. These were nearly always people who had the vaccinations anyway but still confessed nagging doubts about whether corners were cut in the interests of speed.

Of course they have a point – development was fast. Once China shared the genetic sequence of the virus on 11 January 2020, it only took until 13 January for Moderna to define the design of their vaccine. What once might have taken months or years was accomplished in a couple of days.

Does this mean they were taking possibly dangerous shortcuts? Not at all; rather, it highlights the coming together of two great technologies which are dramatically shaping the future of human health. These are AI and biotech, both amazing in their own right and even more amazing in combination.

In this particular case there was the ability to rapidly work out the genetic sequence, coupled with Moderna’s mRNA experience, which had enabled the development of a bio-platform that makes mRNA vaccines virtually programmable. Once doses were available there was also the ability to accelerate clinical trials and thereby achieve FDA authorisation in the same year.

We should celebrate that these two technologies gave us the ability to act at incredible speed when the world most needed it. There is no doubt that the cavalry arrived on time.

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