The possibility of a COVID-19 vaccine is getting closer and closer, and while many people are eagerly awaiting its release, others are concerned about how quickly the vaccines are being developed.
Barbara Loe Fisher is the co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center, a non-profit organization that encourages parents to be wary of vaccinating their children. Fisher said she is concerned that when a vaccine does become available, it may not be safe for people who have underlying health conditions because she believes it won’t have been tested on people with those same conditions.
According to the CDC website, vaccines are normally tested in three phases, and phase two is when vaccines are tested on those whom the vaccine is meant to protect, such as people of the age most affected by the disease or people whose physical health is less than perfect.
Fisher’s concerns about this testing regarding COVID-19 comes from the fact that the production of these vaccines is being fast tracked, so she fears the testing won’t be done effectively.
She said she believes scientists should be putting just as much emphasis on developing therapies and coping strategies as they do on developing a vaccine.
“The challenge is to help people who are at risk for complications to get through that infection and be able to get through it without dying,” Fisher said.
The FDA has not yet approved any drugs or therapeutics for use against COVID-19. Kristen Chevrier, who founded an anti-vaccine community called “Vaccine Freedom Utah,” said she doesn’t see any reason to rush a vaccine because she believes other treatment options are working.
“Even when we have a vaccine, we don’t know for sure that it’s going to work, and we do know that there’s a possibility that it will do damage,” Chevrier said.
Chevrier also said she believes vaccines are being developed too quickly. She cited multiple doctors, including Peter Hotez and Paul Offit, who have both said that the 12-18 month time frame that has been wildly circulated may not be entirely likely.
“I really think we should listen to these doctors, especially because we know that they all have vaccine patents, and they’re in the vaccine program. If they’re warning to go slower and be careful, it might be a good idea to listen,” Chevrier said.
Not everyone wants the testing to slow down, though. BYU life sciences professor Jamie Jensen said as soon as a vaccine becomes available, she plans on being the first in line to get it.
Jensen published a study last year with another life sciences professor, Brian Poole, about convincing people who are vaccine-hesitant to be more pro-vaccine. They found that the people in their study tended to be persuaded when they were introduced to someone who had survived a vaccine-preventable disease.
Poole said he believes vaccines are a victim of their own success. He said since most people haven’t had experience with the diseases that vaccines prevent against, they don’t understand the full risks associated with them, and all they see are the lesser risks that the vaccine itself presents.
“I think a lot of it is mistrust. A lot of it is kind of this idea of naturalness. Injecting something into your body makes people feel weird, and it makes them feel like it’s not a natural thing to do,” Poole said, “So they think natural immunity is better, or these non-pharmaceutical things are better, but they’re really not.”
Poole compared the need for vaccines to the current government recommendation to wear a mask in public places. He said masks, like vaccines, don’t always protect the person who has them, but they are meant to protect the community as a whole. He said people are sometimes unwilling to take these sorts of precautions because they feel it is a restriction of their personal freedom.
Jensen said she believes the push-back against a vaccine for COVID-19 comes from the same place as the fight against other vaccines. She said although everyone has lived through the effects of the pandemic, not everyone has seen the disease itself. According to Jensen, if people who are already against vaccinations don’t have a personal experience with an actual COVID-19 patient, they probably won’t change their minds.
“I just hope they get the vaccine out soon and that people are on board with it,” Jensen said, “I just wish people understood that you get a vaccine to protect your neighbors, not just yourself.”