Rushing a Vaccine to Market is a Terrible Idea

By John Banks

On the COVID-19 front, there is hope that the United States can rush a vaccine to market.

Mark Meadows, the White House Chief of staff, expressed this view to the press on Aug. 23, saying the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) need to “feel the heat” on vaccine timing.

“If they don’t see the light, they need to feel the heat, because the American people are suffering,” Meadows added.

Other officials have expressed similar sentiment and voiced frustration with FDA scientists holding up aspects of the process. The apparent goal is to make a vaccine available fast — and perhaps as quickly as possible.

Rushing a COVID-19 vaccine to market is a terrible idea.

Cutting corners for the sake of speed is far too risky when the health of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, is at stake.

At the same time, if the widespread perception is that the rushed-through vaccine was not properly tested and vetted, a majority of Americans are likely to refuse it — including many who are normally comfortable with vaccines. 

A significant percentage of the public is wary of vaccines in the first place. Some are part of the “anti-vax” movement, believing that vaccines in general are dangerous and cause unacceptable health risks.

Under the circumstances, it will be a challenge getting a majority of Americans to take a COVID-19 vaccine, even if the vetting process is thorough and the science is strong.

If the vaccine looks like it was jammed through the system for political reasons, the percentage of Americans who say “no thanks” will rise.

We have evidence on this front because Russia already tried rushing a vaccine to market — skipping the normal protocols out of obvious political pressure — and the Russian public rejected it. On Aug. 12 we wrote about how Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, had announced the world’s first coronavirus vaccine.

We also noted that, for the sake of speed, Russia had skipped the necessary tests that help prove a vaccine is safe. Thanks to that decision, Russia’s own populace is skeptical.

“Even Russian doctors have been reluctant customers,” the New York Times reports.

“In an online survey, only 24% of 3,040 doctors said they would administer the new vaccine to their patients. Four Russian trade unions representing doctors and teachers have recommended their members not take the vaccine.”

In a Dutch virologist study from 1990, the NYT goes on to add, an animal vaccine was tested for a strain of coronavirus in cats.

When some of the vaccinated cats were exposed to the real virus later on, they died more quickly than cats who had received a placebo. This “early death syndrome” was a cause for alarm and illustrates the potential dangers of an unvetted vaccine.

The bottom line is that, if the United States is perceived as rushing a COVID-19 vaccine to market, politicizing the process or otherwise cutting corners, everybody involved would lose.

Risks would be heightened that the vaccine is not actually effective, or worse yet, outright harmful in some way. Worse still, public trust levels would be so low it would be hard to get people to take it.

In order to preserve public trust in the process — and to rule out the high-stakes dangers of a vaccine gone wrong — the normal safety protocols for testing a vaccine, which were developed via hard lessons over the course of many decades, should be fully observed. 

If they aren’t, the U.S. could be in the situation Russia appears to be in now: Trying to push a vaccine that three out of four medical professionals aren’t even willing to administer, with the public trust badly damaged.