Swift development of COVID-19 vaccines has caused some people to question their safety and wonder if corners were cut in its rapid development. Phase I, II, and III trials and vaccine production have all occurred at unprecedented rates.
I would like to quote my friend Greg Brozeit, “Please don’t confuse fast with rush. The vaccines were developed based on years of research on other coronaviruses.” Many years of work preceded these valuable treatments. Basic science evaluation of mRNA has been proceeding for 20-plus years. The vaccines are the final visible product of these years of unheralded basic research, conducted with the certain expectation of just such an event (world-wide coronavirus pandemic) occurring.
Think of it as a giant iceberg floating in the ocean. More than 90% of its huge bulk is underwater, unseen. As spectacular as the visible 10% above water might be, it would not be supported without the underlying 90%.
Now please think of our year of vaccine development, a seemingly compressed year of miraculous scientific advancement. It is no sudden miracle. The mRNA vaccine is a safe, tested product which is the culmination of countless years of pre-pandemic development.
There are a lot of reasons why the two currently available vaccines were developed rapidly.
First, there was a lot if interest in volunteering for the trials that tested the vaccine’s effectiveness. This sped up the process because researchers often wait months and sometimes even years to get people to volunteer to be part of trials.
Second, production of the final products started before the end of phase III clinical trials.
Third, there was a lot of disease in the community which made it faster to see whether the vaccines were effective. COVID-19 has caused disease in millions of people in the U.S. As infections mounted, it quickly became obvious that participants in the vaccinated arm were profoundly protected compared to people in the placebo arm.
Now a new false claim is spreading through social media. Some are posting that the new COVID strain emerging in England will make the 2020 vaccines obsolete, that the vaccinations might not even work. That is simply false.
Mutations happen constantly among viruses and the vaccination is effective against the new mutated strain, a strain thought to be as high as 70% more contagious than the various strains already circulating.
The mRNA vaccines are a totally new class of technology which appear to work much better than the more traditional DNA vaccines. They induce both humoral (B-cell immunoglobulins) and cellular (T-cell) immunity while DNA vaccines only generate strong cellular immunity.
I worry about the long-term debilitating effects of the virus in the “long haulers”, those who live with the horrible ongoing after-effects of their infection. We have not seen reports of major effects of the vaccines in the past few months during which it has been studied. If there were major effects, I believe we should have started to see them by now. The vaccine is our lifeline out of this year of disaster and 320,000 deaths (and rising).
Please don’t be among those who will needlessly become sick or die. Get the vaccination as quickly as you possibly can!
Read about Jim’s advice for myeloma patients and the COVID vaccine here.
about the author
Jim Omel, MD is a retired family physician who has lived with myeloma since 1997. He has been actively involved in myeloma research and patient support for over 20 years.