LIFE-FAM-VECIANA-SUAREZ-COLUMN-DMT

Rushing the COVID-19 vaccine will lead to skepticism and possible side effects.

Since early March, the world has been waiting with baited breath for a vaccine that’ll alleviate the impact of COVID-19. Responding to this global pressure, scientists are racing to create a safe and effective vaccine that can be made available for public use as soon as possible. 

However, this process shouldn’t be viewed as a race, and right now, that’s what it seems to be. Rushing the vaccine could backfire tremendously, so it’s crucial that scientists follow the appropriate procedures and don’t aim to just produce the vaccine as fast as possible — it must also be as safe, effective and successful as it can be.  

According to The New York Times, there are currently 42 vaccines being tested in clinical trials on humans and an estimated 93 trials using animals. Johnson and Johnson, an American pharmaceutical company, announced recently that it has entered into the final stage of its clinical trials. Chinese company Cansio Biologics and British-Swedish company AstraZeneca have also already moved its vaccines into the final stages of testing. A COVID-19 vaccine could become available as soon as late 2020 or early 2021, setting a new record for the amount of time taken to develop a vaccine. 

Developing a vaccine is a feat that takes years of research and testing to accomplish. From beginning to end, the process usually spans more than a decade. The quickest vaccine to ever be created was the mumps vaccine, which took 4 years to develop. The 12-18 month timeline most scientists are looking at for the COVID-19 vaccine is unheard of. 

However, necessity is the mother of invention. Almost a million deaths worldwide from the virus has presented a dire need for a solution. As economies suffer, healthcare systems become overwhelmed and jobs are lost, a vaccine seems more like a saving grace every day. But, rushing the vaccine could prove to be the most dangerous path in this situation. 

Fast-tracking the COVID-19 vaccine could result in an unsafe vaccine being released to the public. The AstraZeneca trial is on hold because of neurological illnesses that some of the participants have presented since being treated with the vaccine. Scientists are trying to determine whether these reactions were caused by the vaccine or outside factors. Trying to complete testing for a vaccine within such a short period of time doesn’t allow for extensive testing and monitoring to make sure it doesn’t cause adverse side effects. A faulty vaccine will only put healthy people at an even higher risk than the coronavirus would. 

To combat this risk, the FDA issued stricter guidelines concerning the release of a vaccine. These guidelines will provide detailed benchmarks for safety and success and ensure that a hastily made vaccine won’t make its way to the market prematurely. However, political motives have become entwined with the scientific process. 

President Trump continuously promises the public that a vaccine will be released before the presidential election in November. He’s expressed his criticism of the FDA’s strict vaccine standards, which will likely push back the release date of the vaccine. Trump even claims the White House has the power to override the FDA’s regulations, a statement that has no basis in fact but proves concerning nonetheless. 

Public concerns among Americans that a vaccine may be rushed in order to serve Trump’s political goals are growing. In recent polls, only 51% of Americans responded that they’d get a COVID-19 vaccine if it was available today, compared to 72% in late April. Top health officials, including FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn and NIAID director Anthony Fauci, have vowed there’ll be no political involvement in the vaccine process, but despite their efforts, public trust has already plummeted. 

In light of this, the biggest risk of rushing the vaccine might not be safety but widespread skepticism. Convincing people to get the vaccine may be a greater challenge than creating it. The anti-vaccine movement in the U.S. has been growing larger in recent years, and coupled with a downward trend in trust of the government and public health administration, many people will be doubtful of the benefits of vaccination against COVID-19. 

Anti-vaxxers already harbor doubts about the safety of vaccines and the standards against which government agencies hold them to. Rushing the vaccine will only create more doubt and worry around it, and the number of people who’ll actually get vaccinated may not be enough to put an end to the pandemic. 

The whole world is desperate for a vaccine to put a stop to this global nightmare; however, rushing the process of developing a vaccine isn’t helpful to anybody. Releasing a novel vaccine to the public without properly vetting it and monitoring its effects first could lead to an entirely new health crisis. Without sufficient safety guarantees, a vaccine is useless. Regulations must be strictly adhered to in order to make sure no one suffers negative side effects from this vaccine. 

Safety isn’t the only reason to slow down the vaccine process. Rushing the vaccine will cause more people to distrust it, and many may even choose not to get it when it finally arrives. Skepticism is a virus in itself. As it continues to spread, the chances of vaccinating the majority of the population decreases. 

Regardless of pressures from the government or society, scientists must take the proper steps needed to ensure the absolute safety and efficiency of the COVID-19 vaccine. Although the consequences of living without a vaccine are grim, the consequences of releasing one before it’s ready will be even worse. 

Haley Huchler is a sophomore media arts and design and english double major. Contact Haley at huchleha@dukes.jmu.edu.