You’ve seen the breathless media reports. You’ve heard the politicians talking it up.
And you’ve no doubt hoped that the wildly optimistic “coronavirus vaccine by fall” scenario comes true and the drug industry delivers before winter sets in. I mean, who hasn’t? I think it’s safe to say we’re ALL ready for this thing to be over.
But now, one of Big Pharma’s most important execs is out with a HUGE reality check.
Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier has a warning for us. And that is basically we’d better be careful what we wish for with the rush for a coronavirus vaccine in record time. Because it could all backfire on an unsuspecting public.
“What worries me the most is that the public is so hungry, is so desperate to go back to normalcy, that they are pushing us to move things faster and faster,” Frazier said in a video chat with Harvard Business School.
“Ultimately, if you are going to use a vaccine in billions of people, you’d better know what that vaccine does.”
INSIDE the rush for a COVID-19 vaccine
Frazier pointed out that there have only been seven truly new vaccines introduced over the past quarter-century. With his company responsible for four of them. In other words, he knows a little about what it takes.
And what it takes is the one thing politicians seem determined to sacrifice. And that is time. It takes time to prove a vaccine works – and early hopes are often dashed.
For example, he said, everyone’s excited by reports of possible vaccines that stimulate the immune system. But then he added that other vaccine candidates in the past have done precisely that – but ultimately delivered zero protection.
In some cases, he warned, potential vaccines have stimulated the immune system. But then delivered the OPPOSITE of what they wanted.
“Not only didn’t it confer protection but actually helped the virus invade the cell because it was incomplete in terms of its immunogenic properties,” he said. “We have to be very careful.”
And he warned of one example in particular from recent history. The swine flu shot from the 2009 pandemic. “That vaccine did more harm than good,” he said, “We don’t have a great history of introducing vaccines quickly in the middle of a pandemic. We want to keep that in mind.”
Slower and steadier is a better way to win the race
Frazier didn’t elaborate on the problem with the swine flu vaccine. But until now, both Big Pharma and mainstream health officials have been reluctant to admit it was anything other than a rousing success.
But it WASN’T – and now, it looks like, they’re finally willing to say so. Flu vaccines failed in TWO major ways that year.
First, there were signs that folks who got the standard flu shot were MORE LIKELY to get swine flu. And second, the swine flu shot itself left some people suffering from narcolepsy, a debilitating condition marked by sudden exhaustion and even falling asleep almost spontaneously.
Now it’s important to keep in mind NONE of this means an eventual coronavirus vaccine won’t be perfectly safe or highly effective. And whether you should or shouldn’t get it (and WHEN, if you do) is a decision you need to make with your doctor at the time.
But it does mean it’s valid to ask questions. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep yourself informed about the different vaccines in development as they near completion.
WHO developed the vaccine, the METHODS used to test it, and HOW it works are all things to consider when deciding when you feel comfortable rolling up your sleeve.
We may NOT know all the answers right away, even when a vaccine has been given emergency approval by the FDA.
And it would be wise to heed Frazier’s warning: “I think when people tell the public that there’s going to be a vaccine by the end of 2020, for example, I think they do a grave disservice to the public.”