The 3 Vaccine Dilemmas
Health authorities around the world are facing some tough choices
Let’s start with a thought exercise based on a true story: A pandemic is causing havoc all over the world, killing hundreds of thousands of people and paralyzing economies. Humanity is craving a vaccine. One science group, made of one of the most prestigious universities in the world and a well-known pharmaceutical company, has a working vaccine. The effectiveness is debated, but in either case, it surpasses the minimal requirement for approval. The group says they can start rolling out the vaccine in a matter of days.
However, part of the group’s experiment was born out of a mistake. A scientific, and public, discussion arose, questioning the integrity of the experiment and as a result, of the vaccine itself. The company announces it will conduct a new experiment that will hopefully clarify results, but meanwhile, asks for emergency approval for its vaccine based on the data that shows it is working. Toss in some political pressure, billions of dollars at stake, and national prestige on the side.
You are the regulator; what would you do?
It starts with approval. As shown in our little thought exercise, it’s not an easy decision. The vaccine most quickly approved in history, until now, was the mumps vaccine; It took four years. Usually, vaccine development takes between 10–15 years.
It’s not only that we are talking about a “super-speedy” timeline, the Covid-19 vaccines awaiting approval are also based on new technology. mRNA is known and being studied for years, but no vaccine based on this method has yet been approved, ever.
It’s a new approach to vaccines, in an unprecedented time frame for development. It’s an incredible feat by the science community. The world is desperately looking toward an end to the pandemic, but emergency approval is not something that should be taken lightly, or for granted.
A working and an approved vaccine would be worthless if people refuse to take it. And in that front, there is good news and bad news.