Coronavirus & Pharmaceuticals

Why the Public Expects a Coronavirus Vaccine Too Quickly

Executive Summary

  • Expectations have been created in the public’s minds regarding the approval of a coronavirus vaccine that is unrealistic.
  • We cover how this came about.

Introduction

See our references for this article and related articles at this link.

During the coronavirus, the public had come to expect the quick development of a coronavirus vaccine. It has been common to hear projects of roughly 12 to 18 months.

While performing research for this article, it was shocking to learn of the historical timelines for vaccines’ development. So the question arises, why has the public had its expectations of a vaccine set to such a rapid pace?

The Public’s Expectations on a Coronavirus Vaccine

The following is an illustrative quotation on this topic of public expectation.

Almost every day, I hear people making plans around the eventual arrival of a coronavirus vaccine — office reopenings, rescheduled weddings, family reunions and international travel. In recent weeks, colleagues and friends have asked me with growing urgency: “When will we have a vaccine? Will it be any good?” – ProPublica

Journalists Cherry Picking Vaccine Timelines

The desire of government officials to present a rosy scenario regarding the coronavirus is well known. However, there is evidence that media is selectively choosing to present shorter time estimates to their readers.

This is explained in the following quotation.

More than 30 years ago, I was asked the same question about an AIDS vaccine. Being a realistic optimist, my answer was: I do not expect a vaccine earlier than five years from now. None of the many journalists who asked me that question ever quoted those five years. Far too pessimistic! Other scientists spoke about one or two years. They were cited in the newspapers (and I was no longer harassed by journalists).

Three decades later, we are still waiting for an AIDS vaccine effective enough to be licensed.

I learned a valuable lesson then. Today, when I get asked the same question about the novel coronavirus, I respond by repeating the question with a different emphasis: “When do WE (all) get the coronavirus vaccine?” And there are other important questions to be added: Will it be safe? Will it be reliably protective?”

An average vaccine takes about 10-12 years to be developed. – Jens-Peter Gregersen, DVM

This is reinforced with the following quotation.

The grim truth behind this rosy forecast is that a vaccine probably won’t arrive any time soon. (published in April 2020) Clinical trials almost never succeed.(emphasis added) We’ve never released a coronavirus vaccine for humans before. Our record for developing an entirely new vaccine is at least four years — more time than the public or the economy can tolerate social-distancing orders.

But if there was any time to fast-track a vaccine, it is now. So Times Opinion asked vaccine experts how we could condense the timeline and get a vaccine in the next few months instead of years. – New York Times

Furthermore, such fast vaccine development timelines come with the normal risks associated with time compressing projects.

There’s a cost to moving so quickly, however. The potential Covid-19 vaccines now in the pipeline might be more likely to fail because of the swift march through the research phase, said Robert van Exan, a cell biologist who has worked in the vaccine industry for decades.

He predicts we won’t see a vaccine approved until at least 2021 or 2022, and even then, “this is very optimistic and of relatively low probability.” – New York Times

This was published in the New York Times in April of 2020 — so it has been published for a while. However, the information contained in this New York Times article received little replay in other media entities.

It almost appears as if media entities have some incentive to delude their readers on the coronavirus vaccine timeline.

Notice the following graphic, also from the New York Times.

Hmmm…is there a problem with the expectations that are being created for the coronavirus? 

How The Fastest Possible Vaccine Development Time Became the Official Estimate

The 12 to 18-month estimate has become the dominant estimate published in media outlets.

If this estimate is so inconsistent with historical vaccine development durations, where did the number come from? Well, it was pointed out by Gregersen, but it is also explained in the following quotation.

Dr. Zervos says the soonest a COVID-19 vaccine could be ready for widespread use will be 18 months from now—and if that’s the case, it will be the fastest a vaccine has ever been developed. – Henry Ford Health Systems

And this quote

Officials like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the top infectious disease expert on the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, estimate a vaccine could arrive in at least 12 to 18 months. – New York Times

So this means Fauci proposed this optimistic timeline. This comment on the New York Times article discusses how little was behind this estimate when he made it.

To Whit, back in March Dr. Fauci made an incredibly casual guess that the soonest a vaccine could be available within a year to eighteen months. From that, a quasi-religious devotion has developed that one WILL be available. Thus, all we’ve got to do is hide away until then, and we’ll all be safe again. – New York Times

This is what I believe happened.

Journalists asked for the fastest possible time a vaccine could be developed, and this “fastest possible time” became the average time. Obviously, there is an enormous difference between the average time or and the shortest possible time.

This fact reminds me of some of the interviews I have given to journalists. I have had a similar experience when being interviewed by journalists, in that they will look into my quotes rather than taking my quotes for what they are. That is they are leading my quotes, looking to pull what they want out of the quotes — as they have a bias in their head, even though they don’t have any domain expertise on the topic. I also have also been interviewed by journalists who appear to have a short attention span and can’t process the information I provide to them. I also had a journalist tell me that he normally did not change the story after it was published, even though the name of my company, what it does and my title were all incorrect.

What Are the Steps for Developing and Bringing Out a New Vaccine?

The steps of developing a vaccine are the following:

#1: Determine the genetic sequence of the virus.

#2: Develop a vaccine using one of a few different strategies.

#3: Start the first clinical trials using healthy, normal volunteers.

#4: Begin the second round of clinical trials in larger populations of people who are at risk for infection.

#5: Approve vaccine for widespread use.  – Henry Ford Health Systems

And then, of course, produce and distribute the vaccine.

This quote explains how long some of the steps take along with their probability of success.

It is far from guaranteed that the vaccine will be safe and effective. 2013 study calculated that, before entering clinical trials, the average experimental vaccine has a 6 per cent chance of ultimately reaching the market. Of those that make it into trials, a 2019 analysis suggests the probability of success is 33.4 per cent.

That in itself would be a remarkable achievement. The 2013 study found that between 1998 and 2009, the average time taken to develop a vaccine was 10.7 years. It is possible to speed this up to some extent – since then, an Ebola vaccine has become the fastest-developed vaccine ever, being produced in just five years.

And this last point is not something that anyone is interested in hearing — that there may not be an effective vaccine for coronavirus.

Yet there is no guarantee that it is even possible to vaccinate against the coronavirus. There is a lot we don’t know yet about how our immune systems respond to the virus, and whether it is possible to induce long-lasting immunity to it.

But even if the Oxford vaccine succeeds, there will then be the issue of scaling up manufacturing to make hundreds of millions of doses. According to Bottazzi, this is the real bottleneck. Under the best of circumstances, the world is still looking at 12 to 18 months before a vaccine could be widely available, she says.  – NewScientist

The Observations of Others Noticing the Poor Quality Information Getting to the Public

Gregersen then goes on to explain how the vaccine development process is being misexplained to the public.

For comparison here is how coronavirus vaccine development is being explained to the general public:

“Make some milligrams of the desired antigen. Can be done in few weeks or months. Or, if you aim at a DNA or RNA vaccine, it may even be synthesized within days. Immunize mice with it and test the serum for antiviral antibodies. If the serum contains virus-neutralizing antibodies, you have your vaccine.”

Is this really a vaccine? No, it is only a potential vaccine candidate—one of about 100 candidates with a <5% chance to make it to the market. – Jens-Peter Gregersen, DVM

Pinning The Hopes on mRNA Vaccines?

The vaccines being developed are primarily mRNA based. However, there are several problems with this, as the following quotes explain.

“On the other hand,” said Dr. van Exan, “no one has ever made an RNA vaccine for humans.”

Researchers conducting dozens of trials hope to change that, including one by the pharmaceutical company Moderna. Backed by investor capital and spurred by federal funding of up to $483 million to tackle Covid-19, Moderna has already fast-tracked an mRNA vaccine. It’s entering Phase 1 trials this year and the company says it could have a vaccine ready for front-line workers later this year.

“Could it work? Yeah, it could work,” said Dr. Fred Ledley, a professor of natural biology and applied sciences at Bentley University. “But in terms of the probability of success, what our data says is that there’s a lower chance of approval and the trials take longer.”

The technology is decades old, yet mRNA is not very stable and can break down inside the body. – New York Times

And this is reinforced by the following comment on the New York Times article.

RNA Vaccines as a Shot in the Dark?

RNA is a shot in the dark because it’s so fragile. It’s hard to imagine that it can be produced, packaged, shipped, stored, and administered without destroying it. Getting it into cells safely, with no dangerous hitchhikers, is another formidable challenge.

Yes, this sounds very experimental and risky.

The people that are experts in the field seem to think the probability of success is not high. While mRNA is risky, it is being interpreted as a positive because it is “new.” However, it is not new and tested, and it new and untested, as described in the following quotation.

The fixation on mRNA shows the allure of new and untested treatments during a medical crisis. – New York Times

And then there is are the information providers that are motivated by profit.

“Shot in the dark,” “untested approach,” “extremely fragile,” and none of these descriptions or appraisals are being communicated to the public about these vaccines.

Estimates Coming from Pharmaceutical PR Departments

The following addresses the financial bias of who is communicating what is possible to the media.

At this point you might be asking: Why are all these research teams announcing such optimistic forecasts when so many experts are skeptical about even an 18-month timeline? Perhaps because it’s not just the public listening — it’s investors, too.

“These biotechs are putting out all these press announcements,” said Dr. Hotez. “You just need to recognize they’re writing this for their shareholders, not for the purposes of public health.” – New York Times

Conclusion

The public is being led astray. The public wants to see and to the social distancing and restrictions on the economy is pinning their hopes on the fast arrival of a vaccine. Governments and media are telling them that this is likely, without providing the history of vaccine development.

However, a primary reason that both the government and the public are so desperate for a vaccine is that governments have followed a lockdown approach to dealing with the coronavirus.

This comment on the New York Times article that I relied upon for many quotes is illuminating.

I’ve been working on vaccines since 1981, first, as a Presidential Appointee fighting for federal funding to create a stockpile and create the Vaccine Injury Compensation system. Then, as the Global VP of Merck’s Vaccine Business. Finally, as an advisor to the DoD on biowarfare countermeasures and an advisor to several global vaccine companies and countries launching new vaccines.

I read this, stood up at my desk and cheered!

Nobody in the vaccine industry or public health sector has been able to communicate what it takes to get a product developed, tested, manufactured and out the door with such clarity. And, believe me, we’ve tried. You’ve added other layers as well, to suggest alternative pathways to success.

Except for one thing: If I read this correctly, you’re projecting about a 3 month distribution period and that’s way too short. Just a warning that even with pharmacists being able to give immunizations, the current US adult vaccination infrastructure would not be capable of immunizing enough adults in that time frame. However, with a vaccine available, if we have the will, we’ll find the way. – Common on New York Times Article from “GMC”