COMING SOON?

THE ISSUE: COVID-19 vaccine.

OUR OPINION: Poison pill or silver bullet; the choice is ours.

With COVID-19 deaths worldwide approaching 1 million and one American dying from the virus approximately every 80 seconds, a preventative vaccine offers the best hope for ending the pandemic that has so profoundly impacted life on a global scale.

Given the enormous logistics involved in distributing a vaccine that’s expected to require two doses given a month apart, a preparatory timetable for accomplishing the intensive planning and coordination for effective distribution is certainly necessary.

A Center for Disease Control (CDC) letter advising state governors to prepare for the distribution of limited doses of a vaccine as early as November has, however, prompted concern, not celebration.

Of the 160 vaccine candidates being researched worldwide, nine have reached the final phase that normally takes 12 to 18 months to collect sufficient data to assess a vaccine’s effectiveness and possible side effects.

In light of the four-year mumps vaccine research and development that was one of the fastest, numerous public health experts are concerned that a rush to normalcy may trigger an emergency use authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before phase three’s findings are conclusive.

Even though EUA is customarily granted when early results are promising and would likely be prioritized for frontline health care workers, first-responders, mass transit workers and the elderly, it could prove to be a poison pill in the battle against COVID-19. 

Vaccines have a history of being controversial even when there is no pandemic urgency as evidenced by the “anti-vaxxers” movement that fuels skepticism about the efficacy and potential dangers of standard vaccines despite their proven safety and effectiveness.

Furthermore, with every aspect of American life so infected by politics that even the playing field has become a political arena, any EUA before the November election would likely result in a loss of trust in the vaccine by a segment of the American public.

This skepticism in general and COVID-19 in particular is reflected in an August NPR, PBS NewsHour, and Marist study that found 35% of American adults would not get a COVID-19 vaccine (https://tinyurl.com/yxg79xgo).

To counter this disturbing skepticism, the CEOs of the nine drug manufacturers in final trials signed an unprecedented pledge to boost public confidence in any approved COVID-19 vaccines.

Concerned that the control and ultimate defeat of COVID-19 would be more difficult if distrust of a vaccine caused many Americans to opt out, the CEOs vowed to make the public’s well-being and the highest ethical and scientific standards their top priority.

With a feared second wave rising around the world increasing the possibility of a second U.S. wave, when to make a COVID-19 vaccine available and whether to voluntarily get it looms as a critical decision point for Americans.  Individually, the decision could be a life or death one.  Collectively, it could determine if we will ever return to a degree of normalcy.

Whether a COVID-19 vaccine is publicly treated as a poison pill or silver bullet rests with each of us.