The emerging epidemic caused by the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 represents the most important socio-health threat of the 21st century. The high contagiousness of the virus, the strong impact on the health system of the various countries and the absence to date of treatments able to improve the prognosis of the disease make the introduction of a vaccine indispensable, even though there are currently no approved human coronavirus vaccines. The aim of the study is to carry out a review of the medical literature concerning vaccine candidates for the main coronaviruses responsible for human epidemics, including recent advances in the development of a vaccine against COVID-19. This extensive review carried out on the vaccine candidates of the main epidemic coronaviruses of the past has shown that the studies in animal models suggest a high efficacy of potential vaccines in providing protection against viral challenges. Similar human studies have not yet been carried out, as the main trials are aimed at assessing mainly vaccine safety and immunogenicity. Whereas the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV) epidemic ended almost two decades ago and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV) epidemic is now better controlled, as it is less contagious due to the high lethality of the virus, the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic represents a problem that is certainly more compelling, which pushes us to accelerate the studies not only for the production of vaccines but also for innovative pharmacological treatments. SARS-CoV-2 vaccines might come too late to affect the first wave of this pandemic, but they might be useful if additional subsequent waves occur or in a post-pandemic perspective in which the virus continues to circulate as a seasonal virus.
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