Vaccines are undeniably important for the health and economic stability of society. However, it is also important for members of the public to do their due diligence before receiving any kind of medical treatment, and the COVID-19 vaccine is no exception.
One thing, though, is clear: the only way that the pandemic, which has taken over a million lives so far, will end is through the administration of a vaccine to the majority of the general public. Still, we must also pay attention to the controversies surrounding the coronavirus vaccine’s ongoing development.
Many have expressed concerns that the vaccine’s accelerated development timeline, which seeks to provide healthcare workers and vulnerable portions of the population access to immunization early next year, may be politically motivated. President Trump has repeatedly insisted that the vaccine, developed by companies in the United States, Germany, England and other countries, will be available before the election.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has also been said to push the CDC to make decisions that contradict the advice of public health officials. These comments have sparked concerns that President Trump may press companies to make their vaccines available to the public before their safety and efficacy have been proven in phase III clinical trials.
The general public should consider not only the immediate potential risks associated with getting a vaccine but also the possible long-term impacts. Since SARS-COVID-2 is a novel coronavirus, there is little data on the disease itself or the long-term consequences that a future vaccine will have on the health of its recipients.
It will take several years before researchers have gathered enough information about possible side effects that a future vaccine may cause. This uncertainty has been exacerbated by the rapid pace at which developers are moving in order to produce a vaccine that can be quickly released for use by the general public.
The vaccine development team led by AstraZeneca and Oxford University has been one of the leading research groups, but their Phase-3 trial was recently halted (and then restarted) after a recipient developed severe neurological symptoms and inflammation of the spinal cord. Because relatively rare but very serious side effects can only become visible after a vaccine has been given to thousands of people, it is important that vaccine developers complete all Phase-3 trials. A rushed release could have massive consequences on the world’s population.
While one would hope that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and drug companies themselves would mitigate the possibility of administering a vaccine with harmful side effects, these companies cannot accurately predict the potential long term impact it may have on recipients without adequate clinical trials. Sometimes, drugs that have been on the market for a number of years end up being pulled by the FDA because they appeared to be responsible for illnesses or deaths.
Because the timetables for the release and availability of the COVID-19 vaccine are of major political importance, I would encourage readers to research and weigh both the positive and potentially negative impacts of the vaccine before receiving it.
Click here to read Assistant Opinion Editor Caroline Jacoby’s counterpoint.