We finally have a COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Finally” is relative. 

It feels like it’s taken forever because 2020 dragged on and we faced one bad situation after another. 

However, when you consider the time it takes to research a new disease, create a vaccine (through a lot of trial and error), test it, and start distributing it, things have progressed relatively quickly. 

According to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, a typical vaccine timeline can last somewhere between 5-10 years. In some cases, it can take even longer

PhDs’ role in the vaccine process is an important one and may be the proof you need to see that it’s worth getting your doctorate!  

What Is A PhD’s Role In A Vaccine’s Public Introduction?

Who do you think is at the forefront of developing the COVID-19 vaccines?


PhDs are heavily involved in creating vaccines, including the coronavirus vaccination. 

They analyze the virus, study data, test theories, and create life saving medicine that they further test before releasing to the public.

Ultimately, there are six stages to vaccine development and rollout, and PhDs play a crucial role in each of these stages.

  1. Exploratory: This is the research phase where PhDs explore potential antigens to treat/prevent disease.
  2. Pre-clinical: During this phase, PhDs test the antigen on tissue- or cell-cultures or animals to see how effective it is (if it’s effective at all).
  3. Clinical development: A sponsor submits an Investigational New Drug (IND) application to the FDA, or an equivalent regulatory body. The application is a summary of the data gathered so far. It also describes how the drug company plans to create and test the vaccine on humans. Once approved, clinical trials will begin. The vaccine must pass three human testing trials – less than 100 people, hundreds of people, and thousands of people. The goal of trials is to test the safety of the vaccine, study the responses subjects exhibit towards it, and learn more about dosage and immunization schedules.
  4. Regulatory review: Once a vaccine passes all three test phases, the developer submits a Biologics License Application to the FDA. 
  5. Manufacturing: Drug manufacturers have the means to produce mass quantities of vaccines, including the required equipment, personnel, and infrastructure. 
  6. Quality control: A drug goes through adherence procedures and tracking measures even after it is distributed. For example, Phase IV trials are optional studies conducted after a vaccine’s release. The goal is to monitor the safety and effectiveness of approved vaccines. 

Did you know that as a PhD, you are qualified to work at any stage of vaccine development?

COVID And Beyond: Why PhDs’ Role In A Vaccine Rollout Is Important

Humans coexist with numerous microorganisms that cause diseases – some of which we’ve almost forgotten about because of vaccines, such as polio and rubella.

We’re at this point because of the hard work, ingenuity, and innovation of PhDs like you. 

But we’re still struggling with many other diseases. Not only are we still dealing with viruses like HIV, Ebola, and Zika, but we’re also discovering new ones like SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. 

The pharmaceutical and medical research industries need PhDs to lead the research into ways to eliminate the risks these viruses pose. 

Recently, Moncef Mohamed Slaoui, PhD researcher and former head of GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccines department, said that we can expect the work on the COVID-19 vaccine and a potential cure to be “recurring and long-lasting.” At the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in January this year, he asserted that we can’t simply hold out hope that the pandemic is going to disappear.

The PhDs’ role in vaccine development and improvement will continue to be vital to the well-being of people around the world. 

A PhD Qualifies You For A Job In The Pharma Industry

While a doctorate doesn’t get most PhDs very far in academia, it can help you secure a top job helping companies develop and distribute new vaccines. In fact, data released in 2019 showed that PhDs had just as many job opportunities in the industry as in academia. We know that careers outside of academia will continue to increase over time. 

Some of the jobs you can get hired as PhD in the pharma industry are: 

  • Medical Science liaison (MSL): An MSL establishes relationships with researchers, physicians, and other clinicians who are considered key opinion leaders (KOLs) in pharmaceutical companies and hospitals. Your skill to simplify and explain information to multiple audiences is key here.
  • Research scientist: Do you like the idea of being responsible for analyzing information from vaccine trials, medical experiments, and lab-based investigations? Your PhD is of great value for a job as a research scientist within research organizations and government laboratories.  
  • Clinical research scientist: As a clinical research scientist, you’ll conduct clinical investigations and research diseases. PhDs that pursue this career can help identify health conditions and assist physicians to establish accurate diagnoses. 
  • Medical affairs associate: A medical affairs associate is a part of a medical affairs team. These teams work within medical device companies, as well as the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. Their job is to relay knowledge/data gained from clinical trials to both stakeholders and medical professionals.  

The skills you developed throughout your PhD have trained you for a job in the pharmaceutical industry. 

Identifying new microorganisms and developing vaccines that work involves years of testing. You know you don’t expect to get the right answers the first time you test a theory. But, you are resilient to not give up after the first failed attempt. You have the skill of objectively studying failed experiments instead of taking them personally. You have the tenacity required to stick with a project even if it takes years to accomplish. And you have the skills to analyze and convey your data to convince the key stakeholders.

So, is your PhD worth it? Absolutely!

Cheeky Scientist Can Show You How To Get Hired In The Pharmaceutical Industry

If you’re ready to start a career in the pharmaceutical industry, we can help.  

We have a variety of resources including webinars, eBooks, and career programs. Our team can help you draft resumés that will impress potential employers. We’ll also help you negotiate a salary that fits your skill level and expertise. 

Our programs increase your chances of securing well-paid jobs that satisfy your desire to help others. 

Are you struggling to find your ideal clinical research position? Join the Clinical Research Coalition to receive the training you need to get the right job for your skills.

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