The outside view — how long will it take to create a vaccine for Covid-19?

Ben "The Hosk" Hosking
4 min readApr 18, 2020

The inside view is our opinion of how long a task takes, our biases make us underestimate the task and overestimate our ability. The outside view looks at facts, base rates and the time it took similar tasks..

I wrote some articles on outside view and how the perspectives can help estimates and decision making

Inside view

The Inside view is our understanding of the world, the problem and our estimate

The inside view can lead us to over estimate because

illusion of superiority — we believe we are above average and can do tasks quicker than other people.

illusion of optimism — We are optimistic and view only good things happening to us.

illusion of control — because we are doing it, we believe it will go better and we can influence the world.

Balance your bias with the outside view

The inside view is a biased opinion, the outside view helps assess your estimates with similar situations.

An outside view compares the time it took someone else to do a similar task. So if you are estimating a project, you see how long it took to do similar projects.

Base rates and data provide an outside view to compare yours estimate.

How long will a Coronavirus (Covid-19) vaccine take

Everyone is hoping for a vaccine for Covid-19 as soon as possible, so we can end the lockdown and other measures we are using to slow the spread of the virus.

I have seen experts being asked how long it will take to create a vaccine, some have been very optimistic and hope to get a vaccine by the end of the year, others saying 18 months.

What is a realistic time line for a vaccine? the inside view is 1 year to 18 months, maybe this is true because lots of money, resources and companies are working on this problem. Companies are sharing knowledge..

Below are some articles and quotes

Coronavirus: GSK and Sanofi join forces to create vaccine

“GSK’s chief executive Emma Walmsley told the BBC that vaccines usually take a decade to develop and test. A plan to make a vaccine available in just 18 months was a huge acceleration of the normal process, she said.

There are more than 20 vaccines currently in development.

Sarah Gilbert, an Oxford University professor engaged in a separate search for a vaccine, said she was “80 per cent confident” her team’s development would work by autumn.”

When will a vaccine be ready?

“120 vaccines in development”

How long does a vaccine take to make

“The ebola vaccine, known as rVSV-ZEBOV was approved in 2019 after 5 years of research which began in 2014.

It remains the view of scientists advising the British Government and World Health Organisation that 12 to 18 months is an appropriate timeline for vaccine development.”

More Coronavirus Vaccines and Treatments Move Toward Human Trials

“While a final product that would be widely available is still a year or more away, the Novavax effort is one of many that is ready to be tested in people

“We’re all trying to do something which we have almost no precedents for, which is accelerating a vaccine in the middle of a pandemic,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, who is a co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development at Baylor College of Medicine.”

Inside view — positives

  • Multiple companies are trying different vaccines, increasing the chances of one of them being successful.
  • The work on SARS which has some similarities with Covid-19 will give some companies a head start on creating a successful vaccine.
  • Money is being invested, a vaccine is a priority for the world.
  • Knowledge is being shared, this should speed up the process.
  • Red tape could be bypassed, stages skipped.
  • Production facilities can be created now before the vaccine is ready.

Outside view

  • It usually takes 10 years to create, produce and get a vaccine to the people.
  • No vaccine was created for SARS, indicating creating a vaccine won’t be straight forward.
  • Covid — 19 has mutated into two different strains and could mutate again, meaning a vaccine might not work on all strains.
  • Ebola vaccine took 5 years.

Other considerations

We might not get a vaccine created quickly, but we could have drugs which ease the symptoms or help people who are infected. This could lower the deaths caused by Covid-19.

The world is studying and learning more about Covid-19 on a daily basis, this could help the world live with Covid-19.

Hosk guess

18 months seems a common conservative estimate. There could be a delay creating a vaccine, producing enough for the world and getting everyone vaccinated. It could be 2 years before we all get vaccinated.

Links to learn more

Quick video — The Inside View Vs the Outside View


Inside view Michael Mauboussin

Daniel Kahneman: Beware the ‘inside view’



Ben "The Hosk" Hosking

Technology philosopher | Software dev → Solution architect | Avid reader | Life long learner