Could rushing a coronavirus vaccine cause more harm?

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Amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic that is rapidly spreading worldwide, scientists are becoming more concerned that rushing vaccine production to prevent the infection may do more harm than good to patients.

Currently, drugmakers and scientists are working as fast as possible to develop a vaccine to combat the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 126,000 in 114 countries, and taken more than 4,600 lives.

Health experts say that coronavirus vaccines may pose a risk for 'vaccine enhancement,' a condition where instead of protecting the body against infection, it makes the disease worse when the vaccinated person contracts the virus. There are many vaccines developed in the past that have developed vaccine enhancement.

Image Credit: Drasa / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Drasa / Shutterstock

How long does it take to develop a vaccine?

Usually, researchers require months to test upcoming vaccines. It may take about 18 months before a vaccine is ready for mass immunization. Drugs advance through stages, including safety testing, and efficacy tests. Rushing through a vaccine now may mean there is limited time to test its safety and effectiveness.

Further, researchers may need months to test for the potential of vaccine enhancement in animals. Due to the urgency of the global health crisis and the rapid spread of the sudden acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), some pharmaceutical companies are now moving straight into small-scale human tests, without performing animal tests for safety.

"I understand the importance of accelerating timelines for vaccines in general, but from everything I know, this is not the vaccine to be doing it with," Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said.

Hotez has worked on developing a vaccine for Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which caused the 2003 SARS outbreak in China and other countries. During the development, he found that, during animal testing, some vaccinated animals developed a more severe disease when exposed to the virus.

"There is a risk of immune enhancement. The way you reduce that risk is first you show it does not occur in laboratory animals," he added.

What is vaccine enhancement?

Vaccine enhancement or antibody-dependent enhancement is a result of a vaccination, wherein instead of protecting a vaccinated people from the infection, it causes severe disease when they contract the pathogen.

For some members of different virus families, vaccine enhancement can happen. Instead of protecting the person from infection, it may cause more harm. It is essential that in developing vaccines, testing should be performed on animal models to determine the risks involved.

Vaccine development efforts

Vaccine manufacturers are 'under the thumb' due to the rapid spread of the virus, and affected countries are crying out for a way to prevent infections. However, developing a vaccine that is safe and effective is crucial.

Many companies have announced progress in vaccine development. Some of them use genetics-based vaccines, which are now with health agencies for evaluation. The approval process involved with vaccines is costly and tedious, and more demanding than for most other drugs in the market.

In most cases, though samples pass clinical tests, the production of a vaccine to be used by the public may take about 12 to 18 months, at least. Vaccines are given to healthy people for protection against a pathogen, whether it's a bacterium or a virus. The vaccine should not make healthy people sick; hence, preventive vaccines do not cure illness but rather, boost the immune system to combat the infection.

Global numbers

The total number of cases has reached 126,254, and the death toll surpassed 4,600. Outside of China, Italy has the highest number of confirmed cases, with 12,462 patients down with the illness and 827 deaths. Iran has 9,000 confirmed cases and 354 deaths. China has the highest number of infections, topping 80,000, while more than 62,000 people have already recovered.

South Korea was the country with the highest number of infections next to China two weeks ago, but it had only 66 deaths, thanks to effective containment efforts. The country has so far had 7,869 cases, while 333 have already recovered.  

Where Did Viruses Come From?

Where Did Viruses Come From?

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Written by

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.


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  1. Levi Cohen Levi Cohen United States says:

    Dear article writer,
    For anyone who actually does research regarding things like cold and flu viruses, one can quickly learn that the mutation rates and speed of cold and flu viruses are far to high and quick for any commercially manufactured and delivered cold or flu vaccine to EVER be effective.
    For example, it is not unusual for a cold or flu infected person to actually have several mutations of the original virus they were infected with, at the same time.
    Now, knowing that a cold or flu virus will mutate and multiply mutations so quickly that a person can have several mutations simultaneously, should be all we need acknowledge as to whether to waste time, money and other valuable resources in pursuing a vaccine treatment which will ALWAYS be worthless as to prevention of any cold or flu.
    And when you consider how many ingredients inside a vaccine injection are harmful directly, the very concept of suggesting, promoting  or forcing people to receive any such cold or flu vaccines is tantamount to a criminal act of endangerment and fraud.
    I get it, that to arrive at this view, you have to actually admit that we were lied to for generations regarding the effectiveness of many of the vaccines, and I am not saying that some vaccinations are effective.
    But the only vaccines that are truly effective contain nothing but a form of a virus that confers immunity by association-like say the cowpox virus does for smallpox. Or like the measles parties they hold for natural vaccination via normal immune response.
    As for any vaccine that bypasses any part of the natural immune response (like all injections) or that contains hazardous materials like mercury, or aluminum, those kind of vaccines should be considered criminal fraud and dangerous. And any people forcing them onto people who do not want them for themselves or their children should be considered criminals who are violating one of the most important aspects of freedom, freedom to choose what they put into theirs and their children's bodies.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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