Race to a COVID-19 Vaccine

Noah Reynolds, Staff Writer

This is the first in a series of three articles on the COVID-19 vaccine. 

MATTHEWS, NC-“This is deadly stuff,” President Trump told Bob Woodward back in February.

Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, paused and resumed its phase III trials, amidst continually rising COVID-19 numbers. AstraZeneca, working with the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) headed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, is one of three major companies currently developing phase III trials.  

Moderna and Pfizer, also working with the NIAID, claim their vaccine may be available as soon as November. This halt on AstraZeneca’s vaccine (AZD1222) trials has heightened fear in the American public. The question on everyone’s mind: how safe will the vaccine really be?

Dr. Christopher Reynolds, an emergency physician and local emergency department medical director, said, “It’s difficult to give a straight answer on that right now because I understand a lot of people are concerned and concerned that the vaccine will be rushed through without the proper procedures in place.”

Multiple factors will affect the safety and risk of a COVID-19 vaccine: namely the trial completion, political pressure, desire for profit, and approval of the vaccine.

Drug trials are conducted in three phases. In phase I trials, a drug is administered to a small number of subjects to determine the best dose with the fewest side effects. In phase II, it is given to a larger number to ensure the safety of the vaccine, and in the third and final phase it is given to thousands of participants to determine its efficacy. Half of participants are injected with the vaccine, and half are injected with a placebo, an injection containing no vaccine. 

AstraZeneca paused its phase III trial because a woman in the UK began to experience neurological adverse effects consistent with transverse myelitis (though she was not officially diagnosed), one of the potential neurological side effects of vaccines.  AstraZeneca closely observed the UK woman and other participants to ensure no one else had similar symptoms. The company has officially resumed its trial as of Saturday (9/12/2020).

A major concern about the vaccine trials is political pressure; governments are racing to obtain the first effective vaccine and to vaccinate their respective countries to gain the lead in diminishing COVD-19 and returning to a “normal” state.