In short, because we had built years and years of previous science, particularly work related to another corona virus, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus. As This American Life reports on the speed of vaccine development:
That’s because the spike on this coronavirus that would cause the pandemic, it was very, very similar to the one on the MERS coronavirus, the one they had been studying.
David Kestenbaum: It’s often noted that these vaccines came together really quickly.
But it seems like the reason they came together really quickly is because of all this work that went on for years before.
Jason Mclellan: Yeah, I think that’s right. And yeah, it definitely is. Just–
David Kestenbaum: It’s not like it just happened in 30 days. It happened in 10 years.
Jason Mclellan: Yeah, I saw a nice graphic online showing that if SARS-COV-2 had emerged 10 years ago, we’d be nowhere this far along to having a vaccine.
The report also notes that while some politicians have taken to calling COVID-19 “kung-flu” or the “China virus in a pejorative nature towards China, some of the lead researchers in developing the vaccine were immigrants from China, including scientists like Nianshuang Wang.