Health experts are warning of dire consequences after President Donald Trump allowed one vaccine maker to begin testing its coronavirus shot in people before completing standard safety testing in animals, Politico reported Saturday.
Trump has pledged to “slash red tape like nobody has even done it before” to accelerate the development of a coronavirus vaccine. But his push could backfire if the government moves too fast, according to public health officials and scientists with decades of experience in the field.
In some cases, a vaccine that hasn’t been properly tested could make people sicker. And if there are complications, the public relations problems could mount, spurring an anti-vaccination sentiment.
“There’s a lot of hope for a [coronavirus] vaccine but there obviously has to be a lot of caution,” said Kathryn Edwards, a Vanderbilt University pediatrician who helped test vaccines against whooping cough, pneumonia, flu and other diseases.
NIH infectious disease leader Anthony Fauci has said it could take 12 to 18 months to make a vaccine available, but even that timetable could be overly ambitious. The most promising technologies haven’t been tested on massive groups of people. And public health officials typically take their time when vetting vaccines targeted at millions.
The report points out, “several examples of how fast-tracking vaccines can backfire.”
A massive campaign to vaccinate against the 1976 swine flu flopped when people suffered a rare nerve disorder after vaccination. And a vaccine used in some European countries against H1N1 flu in 2009 caused some people to develop the sleep disorder narcolepsy.”
Trump wants to show that he is activating the full power of the federal government in pushing for the health care system to find a vaccine. But health experts warn that the infrastructure of vaccine development is not conducive to political pressure or a runaway pandemic.
And while no one is saying the current candidate vaccines are dangerous, they warrant dutiful examination “because in contrast to drugs, vaccines are given only to healthy people,” said Barry Bloom, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. “We have to be enormously careful not to harm anyone,” he added, according to Politico.
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