Experts address fears around COVID-19 vaccine

While+plenty+of+people+have+volunteered+for+clinical+trials%2C+many+others+are+concerned+about+fast-tracking+a+COVID-19+vaccine.+%28Dreamstime%2FTNS%29

While plenty of people have volunteered for clinical trials, many others are concerned about fast-tracking a COVID-19 vaccine. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Julia Ochsenhirt

Since the emergence of the novel coronavirus in December, infectious disease experts across the world have been working around the clock to develop a vaccine. 

This effort is especially critical for the United States — as we’ve seen all levels of our government fail to take even basic measures to fight the virus, we’ve come to view a vaccine as our last hope. 

Yet as desperate as many people are for things to return back to normal as soon as possible, [CBS News reports that only 50% of Americans would take the vaccine].

This widespread skepticism is misguided according to experts — they say that when a coronavirus vaccine is available, we should get it. Clinical trials are moving at an unprecedented speed, which incites fear in some Americans around the efficacy of a newly developed vaccine. 

Per Science Magazine, one common fear surrounding the vaccine candidates is the possibility of long-term side effects that developers wouldn’t be able to detect in trials spanning only months.   

 The leaders of Operation Warp Speed, the nickname for the federal government’s efforts to manufacture and distribute a vaccine, have all insisted that science, not politics, will govern the vaccine’s timeline.

 In an interview with Science Magazine, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the co-head of Operation Warp Speed, went so far as to say he’d quit his job before being swayed by political pressures to release an unsafe vaccine. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has also repeatedly stressed that no one involved in the vaccine’s production is sacrificing scientific integrity. 

Testifying before a Congressional subcommittee, he explained that advances in technology and the massive amounts of funding being poured into the project have helped expedite the trial process.

Chief of Infectious Diseases within the section of Internal Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Health, Dr. John Sander,s explained that while coronavirus vaccines have only been in clinical trials for a matter of months, scientists anticipated an outbreak of a novel coronavirus and vaccine platforms have been in development for decades. 

“The vaccines that are being tested right now weren’t developed overnight; they were developed over decades of work,” Sanders said. “The Chinese released the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2, and two days later, the National Institute of Health (NIH) had produced a vaccine. But it’s not because they did all that work in two days — that reflected decades of work to get ready to do that.”

Dr. Sanders also described the case of the RotaShield vaccine: developed to prevent rotavirus infections in infants, it was approved in 1998 after standard, years-long clinical trials and was considered to be of high safety and efficacy. 

However, RotaShield was pulled by the CDC after Phase 4 trials found cases of bowel obstruction in one in every 10,000 vaccinated infants. The RotaShield case demonstrates that all vaccines, including those with long trial periods, have some chance of causing unexpected effects when rolled out to masses of people. 

“Nobody should be hesitant to take the vaccine if it’s approved,” Sanders said.“But nobody should think that [the approval of the vaccine] means there won’t be some other issues that won’t be detected. That’s true for every vaccine and every drug.”

 The coronavirus pandemic has taken nearly a million lives worldwide, and has caused economic and mental health crises. A vaccine won’t fix all of our problems immediately — it’ll likely take many months to become widely available in just the world’s richest countries, and years to reach beyond the first world, per the Wall Street Journal. 

However, experts agree that we shouldn’t hesitate to take the vaccine when we’re able to. 

In the meantime, we should applaud the scientists, drugmakers, government actors and companies that are working at a truly astounding speed in the hopes of restoring some sense of normalcy.