Will Accelerated COVID-19 Vaccine Development Fuel Public Distrust?

June 10, 2020

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has created intense need for treatment, rapid development of a vaccine could come at a cost.

An article published in JAMA warned that rushed vaccine development could lead to potential consequences in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) prevention efforts, as well as for public trust in global vaccination efforts.

Due to the urgency of the pandemic, researchers have been attempting to expedite the vaccine development processes; AstraZeneca received $1 billion from the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to develop, produce, and deliver the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate, with anticipated deliveries beginning in September, 2020. Moderna’s phase 3 trials for their investigational mRNA-1273 vaccine are set to begin in July 2020. 

In the commentary, the authors noted an increasing prevalence of hesitancy linked to vaccines prior to the pandemic, including the belief that vaccines cause harmful effects, most prevalently autism. Despite studies refuting these claims, the belief persists, damaging the public’s trust in physicians and health care professionals.

Related: Keep Current on Vaccines to Reassure Hesitant Patients

The analysis also pointed to previous instances in American history where expediated vaccine development resulted in substantial harm. Jonas Salk’s inactivated polio vaccine in 1955 was authorized to be manufactured after a rushed and premature release following the public’s outcry for immediate vaccine availability after seeing favorable results from various trials. Five pharmaceutical companies were allocated Salk’s formula, without implementing necessary oversight. Cutter Laboratories distributed a vaccine overcontaminated with live poliovirus, resulting 70,000 affected children; developing muscle weakness, 164 were paralyzed and 10 died.

Experts have already commented on the risks of rushing a COVID-19 vaccine, suggesting that a vaccine being rolled out within the next 6 to 12 months, which many suspect will be the case, may come with more risks than previous vaccines, and may be less effective. The public could respond to these adverse effects with distrust of physicians and scientists, effectively compounding already existing hesitancies.  

“Failing to abide by standards of safety and scientific rigor during the COVID-19 crisis will fuel the argument that physicians and scientists cannot be trusted,” the authors wrote. “Vaccination rates, which are declining due to widespread concern about visiting clinicians’ offices, could further decrease. The US could see resurgences of many vaccine-preventable illnesses, and inevitably, massive increases in avoidable deaths and irreversible outcomes.”

References:

1. Trogen B, Oshinsky D, Caplan A. Adverse Consequences of Rushing a SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine. JAMA. Published online May 26, 2020. doi: 10.1001/jama.2002.8917