Vaccine development against SARS-CoV-2 has drawn attention around the globe due to the exploding pandemic. Although COVID-19 is caused by a new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, previous research on other coronavirus vaccines, such as FIPV, SARS and MERS, has provided valuable information for the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccine. However, important knowledge gaps remain – some are specific to SARS-CoV-2, others are fundamental to immunology and vaccinology. Here we discuss areas that need to be addressed for COVID-19 vaccine development, and what can be learned from examples of vaccine development in the past. Since the beginning of the outbreak, the research progress on COVID-19 has been remarkable. We are therefore optimistic about the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccine.