6 questions that have to be answered within the race for a vaccine

With COVID-19 nonetheless raging within the U.S. and the loss of life toll approaching 200,000 Individuals and 1 million folks worldwide, a secure and efficient vaccine is required to cease the unfold of the illness and restart the economic system.

All eyes are on the pharmaceutical business, as main firms have moved forward to find, check, and manufacture a vaccine sooner than ever earlier than. Most of the world’s greatest scientists are centered on this purpose. To speed up the supply of a vaccine in report time, the Trump administration launched Operation Warp Velocity, funding a number of vaccine candidates by an accelerated growth course of and committing to buy a whole bunch of hundreds of thousands of doses of accredited vaccines.

Attempting to hurry up science carries many dangers, particularly for a novel virus like this one, which isn’t properly understood nor simply characterised. Scientific discoveries can’t be pushed by timetables just like the upcoming Presidential election is.

To deal with these dangers, the next questions have to be answered:

1. Will there be issues of safety not revealed in early medical trials?

2. Will the vaccines be sufficiently efficient to cease COVID-19’s unfold?

3. Will the American folks have sufficient confidence to get vaccinated?

4. Will there be ample portions of vaccines accessible, and who will get precedence?

5. If a number of vaccines are accredited, how will folks know which one to get?

6. Will political strain affect the approval course of?


Time strain to finish the trials raises issues that issues of safety could seem solely after hundreds of thousands of individuals have been vaccinated. Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Velocity’s vaccine growth arm, has stated there’s a “very, very low probability” of a vaccine being accredited by election day, and that he’ll resign if he feels strain to approve an unsafe vaccine. 

On Sept. 9, medical trials for AstraZeneca’s main vaccine candidate had been halted after a affected person developed neurological signs, illustrating the care that have to be taken in testing new vaccines. (These trials have since resumed after a cautious medical assessment.) Studying of issues of safety after hundreds of thousands of wholesome folks have been vaccinated can be devastating to the nation’s well being and public confidence.


The Meals and Drug Administration (FDA) has set the minimal threshold for a vaccine’s effectiveness at 50%, basically the identical bar as flu vaccines, however influenza has a far decrease threat of loss of life than COVID-19 does. With 50% effectiveness, will the general public really feel sufficiently assured to renew their regular lives—working in crowded areas, attending concert events or sporting occasions, going into crowded bars and eating places, or taking lengthy airplane flights? Hopefully, pharmaceutical makers will be capable of develop a vaccine with considerably greater than 50% effectiveness.

Public confidence

A Sept. 10 Kaiser Household Basis ballot discovered that 54% of Individuals wouldn’t wish to obtain a vaccine accredited previous to election day on Nov. 3. In the meantime, anti-vaccine activists are utilizing COVID-19 to stoke fears concerning the security of all vaccines. Thus, it’s important to construct public confidence within the vaccine’s security and effectiveness, so extra folks will volunteer to get vaccinated.


As soon as accredited, a vaccine is unlikely to be broadly accessible for a number of months. Well being care staff ought to have precedence entry. After that, how will priorities be established to find out who will get the vaccine? Priorities needs to be based mostly on threat stratification, with extra instant entry given to susceptible populations such because the aged, folks with diabetes and weight problems, or folks in high-risk occupations.

Figuring out which one to get

With main pharmaceutical firms spending billions of {dollars} to create an efficient vaccine, a number of candidates will ultimately be accredited by the FDA, every with its personal scientific strategy and degree of effectiveness. The primary vaccine will get the publicity, however will it’s the best? Shoppers will want ample data to determine which vaccine to obtain, and they need to get that data from their physicians, not pharmaceutical advertisements on tv or phrase of mouth.

Political intervention

There are rising issues about politics coming into into FDA choices, particularly if approval or an emergency use authorization (EUA) is granted previous to the Nov. Three election. The aforementioned Kaiser ballot discovered that 61% of Individuals are anxious the FDA will rush to approve a vaccine because of political strain. 

These issues are heightened by the FDA’s untimely EUA of hydroxychloroquine previous to testing final spring, an approval the FDA later withdrew. Moreover, a current Nationwide Institutes of Well being panel criticized the FDA for its EUA of convalescent plasma with out having carried out randomized exams. For such an vital well being care resolution, political strain has no place within the vaccine approval course of.

A plan to win the general public’s confidence

The COVID-19 disaster won’t finish till we now have a number of secure, efficient, and broadly accessible vaccines. Regulators and well being care leaders, backed up by political leaders, should take the lead in constructing public confidence within the integrity of the complete vaccine growth and distribution course of. 

The pharmaceutical business and public well being officers should emphasize security first. On Sept. 8, 9 main pharmaceutical firms signed a pledge to “solely submit for approval or emergency use authorization after demonstrating security and efficacy by a Part Three medical research that’s designed and carried out to fulfill necessities of … the FDA.” This pledge was signed by the CEOs of AstraZeneca, BioNTech, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna, Novavax, Pfizer, and Sanofi.

A secure and efficient vaccine holds the important thing to stopping the unfold of COVID-19 and absolutely restarting the economic system. When a vaccine is finally accredited, the general public should be capable of depend on public well being officers and physicians who’ve rigorously reviewed medical trial knowledge. With the intention to construct public confidence, well being care leaders—impartial from politicians—should step as much as the problem of making certain COVID-19 vaccines are secure, efficient, and accessible to these most in want first.

Invoice George is senior fellow at Harvard Enterprise College and former chair and CEO of Medtronic. He’s the creator of Uncover Your True North.