Vaccine project management – a race against time

Vaccine project management – a race against time

The urgency to find a coronavirus vaccine is compressing years of research into weeks for these life-saving projects, writes Rachael Pells

Developing a successful vaccine for COVID-19 is now occupying some of the world’s sharpest minds. But the road ahead is far from straightforward. Scientists face huge time-scale pressures, and navigation is especially complicated when traditional planning strategies no longer apply.

The unpredictable nature of the disease means project managers are unable to plan to the same measures they once might have. So how do we go about achieving such a complex and high-stakes mission when the only deadline leaders have is ‘now’?

“A global public health crisis is not business as usual,” says Tarja Huuskonen, CEO at life sciences project management consultancy Action for Results. Leadership, resilience and a “focused pursuit of the end goal” are crucial, she says, and team leaders will need to build a strong network of partnerships and alliances – often with competitor groups and across boundaries.

“From a global perspective, having a prioritised pipeline of vaccine candidates is also important,” Huuskonen says. “While several global collaborations are in place, questions about prioritisation and the ability to refocus resources and funding quickly appear.”

Given that social distancing measures are forcing office teams to fully coordinate work online, “another challenge is to quickly learn virtual facilitation of work – truly working virtually, and not just meeting virtually,” she explains.

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This article is an edited extract from a longer article that appears in the summer 2020 edition of APM’s quarterly Project journal, an exclusive benefit for APM members. Find out more about how you can access the journal at

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Posted by Rachael Pells on 17th Jun 2020

About the Author

Rachael Pells is a freelance journalist who writes about science and education.

Image: Numstocker/Shutterstock

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