No doubt the world is hoping for that magic bullet, that shot in the arm, more quickly than ever as now we learn President Trump is hospitalized with Covid -19. Clearly this novel virus can even break through the protective presidential bubble! We are far from winning this battle. We hope the vaccine, or vaccines, will be our cavalry to destroy the enemy.
I decided to take a closer look at what we know about vaccines so far. America seems divided (what else is new?) between those who would be the first in line to get their shot and those who are in no rush to turn up at that line at all.
According my daily NPR feed, reporter Allison Aubrey writes that Dr. Anthony Fauci stated he and the FDA would consider using a vaccine that is only 50% effective. (Statistically, that is the same as a coin toss.) If 50 out of 100 vaccinated people did not get the disease, those 50 could not transmit it to others. (Health experts add the caveat: if you do get it, it will be less severe.) It stands to reason thousands of us would need to be vaccinated for a meaningful 50% reduction of Covid in the United States.
Vaccinations can create herd immunity if enough people get them. Letting a disease run rampant throughout the population creates “natural” herd immunity, at least for those who do not die from it. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not join that herd.
The Steps to a Safe and Effective Vaccine
In another NPR article, reporter Joe Palca quotes Holly James, a biostatistician at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. “The primary analysis of the trial happens when you get enough events.”
So just how to we find these events? What do we look for? How is a vaccine developed anyway?
I found some great answers at https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/how-is-covid-vaccine-developed-how-long/ . Here is a summary of the phases, which usually take years. But to get “warp speed” they need to run several phases at the same time. The timelines noted below for the phases are pre-Covid.
- SCIENCE PHASE – up to 5 years total
- Research done to get an immune response at the molecular level.
- Pre-clinical stage: test on animals and in test tubes for safety and effectiveness.
- TRIALS PHASE – up to 10 years total
- Small scale (10-50 people) trial to test response in humans.
- Study immune response, effectiveness, and side effects in 100s of people.
- Assess if vaccine protects thousands of people under natural conditions over 5-10 years
- PRODUCTION PHASE
- If a vaccine gets this far, it needs to be approved by regulators and then produced.
- Manufacturing can cost between $200 million to $500 million dollars.
- Actual production can take up to 5 years
To get a safe and effective vaccine in only two years would be a huge leap forward in the annals of medicine!
In my lifetime, I have seen this nation rise to one challenge after another. My parents’ generation built aircraft, weapons, and even the atomic bomb, in record time during World War II. Since then, technology and science have made enormous leaps. With determination, and unity, this nation has always met its goals.
Now we are in the fight of our lives. Perhaps Operation Warp Speed will initiate a new rapid response method to create vaccines for this and future pandemics. I believe more, or worse, lay ahead unless we change the way we raise and process animals for food consumption. Bird flu, swine flu, salmonellosis, and the Ebola virus, to mention a few, are all zoonotic (from animals to humans, then human to human) plagues.
Perhaps we will learn to join hands across national borders, so mankind will share knowledge and be forthright in the face of disease. We can no longer hide the truth for political reasons. I hope if the new, and yet untested, infusion treatment helps the President, it will be made available in sufficient quantities for other Covid patients.
I pray the President will recover and stress the lesson he so painfully learned — that masks save lives. May he become the poster-boy for mask wearing and social distancing!
Finally, here is a link to Cochrane, which I believe is the most trusted source for unbiased, international, medical reports you can find. In Cochrane’s own words at their website,
“Cochrane is for anyone interested in using high-quality information to make health decisions. Whether you are a doctor or nurse, patient or carer, researcher or funder, Cochrane evidence provides a powerful tool to enhance your healthcare knowledge and decision making.
Cochrane’s members and supporters come from more than 130 countries, worldwide. Our volunteers and contributors are researchers, health professionals, patients, carers, and people passionate about improving health outcomes for everyone, everywhere. Our global independent network gathers and summarizes the best evidence from research to help you make informed choices about treatment and we have been doing this for 25 years.
We do not accept commercial or conflicted funding. This is vital for us to generate authoritative and reliable information, working freely, unconstrained by commercial and financial interests.
Our Strategy to 2020 aims to put Cochrane evidence at the heart of health decision-making all over the world.”
Perk a pot of coffee, my scientifically inclined friends, and dig in.
In his book ‘How to Survive A Pandemic,” Michael Greger presents a detailed summary of the 1918 influenza known as the Spanish Flu. According to Greger, the Spanish Flu claimed between 50 to 100 million people worldwide. Initially, it was believed the virus may have been transmitted from infected farm animals (pigs) to soldiers at a near-by army base in the state of Kansas and then spread as soldiers relocated to other bases. Despite the catastrophically high death toll, the lack of actual reported cases made it extremely difficult for researchers to pinpoint where the pandemic actually began.
Why the lack of reported cases? This was a fast-moving virus — and the havoc it wreaked upon its victims — devastating. People not only suffered from chills, nausea, and fatigue — but their lungs filled with fluid, making it difficult and/or impossible to breathe. Dead bodies, blue-tinged from the lack of oxygen to the lungs, began piling up in the streets. Normally, one might assume this to be cause for alarm. Following that train of thought, it would make sense that newspaper headlines and radio announcements would reflect the dire circumstances of the times. This was not the case.
In 1918, news of the illness was under wraps because the United States was preparing to enter into World War I. Newspaper reporters were threatened with both imprisonment and large fines if they printed any information pertaining to the illness as it might affect national security.
Why was the 1918 flu called the “Spanish Flu?” As a neutral country in the run up to war, Spain had no restrictions regarding the publication of information and spoke freely about how the virus was ravaging its people. Being the first to “sound the alarm” so to speak, Spain earned the unlucky naming rights of the deadliest flu pandemic in history. The Spanish Flu killed 10 times more American soldiers than American lives lost in WW1.
Greger purports that in 2005, “findings of a virologist by the name of Taubenberger finally answered the question: Where did the 1918 virus come from? The answer, published in October 2005, is that humanity’s greatest killer appears to come from avian influenza — bird flu.”
It is amazing how the details of the 1918 pandemic mimic our current COVID-19 pandemic. Our epidemiologists, scientists, and historians learned a great deal from the 1918 experience and from other potential pandemics in regard to identification of vectors, specifically how to protect us from avian spread, and how to focus potential treatment. They gave us information on how best to protect ourselves by wearing a mask and maintaining distance. Unfortunately, this review of history also reveals how politics can influence the course of disease and the resulting death toll.
The death rate is now over 200,000 in America. Please God give us wisdom, guidance, and discernment. Help us to take responsibility for our actions and to have empathy for our brothers and sisters.
If a vaccine is proven to be safe and at least 50% effective, I will pray for guidance in how to proceed. I know I have responsibility to others as well as to my family and myself.
WOW! History seems to be repeating itself as we insert politics into pandemics! Frankly, and I am sure you would agree, that is a recipe for disaster. Thank you for sharing that information about the Spanish flu. “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
Sue, thank you again for a wonderful article. I found it very interesting.
Glad you liked it.