There are only two ways that the coronavirus crisis will be completely and utterly behind us. One is if a cure is developed, which doesn’t seem terribly likely. The other is if a vaccine is developed, but that process will take a lot of work and a lot of time. Dr. Bethanie Wilkinson of Falmouth is a biochemist who developed a widely available flu vaccine called Flublok. She discussed the vaccine development process with WGBH News' All Things Considered host Arun Rath. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Arun Rath: I think people know what vaccines are, but can you give us a refresher on how they work? The original vaccines we’re familiar with are different from modern vaccines, particularly the one you developed, Flublok.

Dr. Bethanie Wilkinson: There are traditional vaccines that use either killed or inactivated virus, and there are some chemicals they use to kill them, then separate them from the chemicals and inject them. There are also what’s called an attenuated, or live, vaccine, which are mild versions of a virus that would be injected and give you a slight infection. Both of those will produce antibodies and an immune response.

Those are the traditional vaccines, but there are novel methods, newer ones, like what I worked on, Flublok. Some use recombinant DNA technology. We used recombinant expression systems which just made proteins. So we took the genetic code for a surface antigen from influenza and then we expressed it in what’s called an expression system — and that’s like cells that are made into factories for protein. And so we produced a lot of protein, we purified it and we injected that. And that produced an antibody response, which actually produced neutralizing antibodies — antibodies that will prevent you from getting infected.

Rath: It’s really using what sounds like cutting-edge genetic laboratory technology, the sort of things that wouldn’t have been available to Louis Pasteur.

Wilkinson: Exactly.

Rath: How recent is that technology, to be able to create proteins like that?

Wilkinson: It’s 20 years old. I hate to say that. But it was pretty exciting when I first graduated from graduate school. I was all excited about this technology, because I thought there would be a vaccine for everything using this technique. But it does take a bit of resources and money, and there wasn’t a lot of interest in it from pharma, because vaccines don’t make a lot of money.They prevent something, so they do take some work, because you have to prove a negative — you have to prove you’re not getting an infection. So even though it’s old, it’s not really used that much. However, the people who worked on this originally with me, they’ve actually gone to another company called Novavax, and this company has been perfecting and making it better.

Rath: Talk about how some of the work that you did on Flublok is being built on in the effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine.

Wilkinson: That’s true, but there are also other techniques, including making mRNA vaccines, DNA vaccines and modifying some other viruses to encode for the COVID protein. So there’s actually several different novel vaccines out there being developed. In fact, when I looked at the WHO website, I saw there are 100 vaccines in development right now. One of the furthest along is an mRNA vaccine being developed by Pfizer, and they are predicting that one will actually be available by the end of 2020, which is pretty exciting, especially since we’ve been hearing 18 months. But there’s also some other ones that might be even further along. And the Novavax vaccine is going into a clinical study in May. I thought this one would be the fastest, because we know it’s a fairly safe way to make a vaccine, unlike the novel ones, which still have some safety questions that will need to be resolved. But it’s great that so much effort is being put into developing a vaccine, because we want one sooner rather than later, of course.

Rath: Given all these remarkable technologies and approaches now at our disposal, are you optimistic that the development of a coronavirus vaccine will be a matter of when, not if?

Wilkinson: Oh, definitely, yes. I think it’s a matter of when. We’ll just have to see. There are a lot of great minds working towards this, so it will be something I think everybody can look forward to and feel a little bit better about everything, if there’s an end in sight.