President Trump has suggested a coronavirus vaccine could be ready for approval in a “matter of weeks,” but there is plenty of skepticism among the general public about whether it will be safe and effective. An Associated Press poll conducted in May found that 20 percent of respondents would not get the vaccine, while a small poll conducted by WebMD in July found that 30 percent of the 1,000 participants said they were unsure if they would get it.
The expedited timeline and political climate surrounding COVID-19 has caused some to wonder whether corners have been cut in the race to get approved first, but recent events surrounding a vaccine candidate put forth by AstraZeneca should be taken as a sign that the U.S. is continuing to put patient safety at the forefront, Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD, told Fox News.
On Tuesday, a top FDA official confirmed that AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine trial was on hold in the U.S. and that the agency would investigate after a participant in the U.K. trial developed a serious side effect thought to be transverse myelitis. In the U.K. and elsewhere, the trials have already resumed, Reuters reported.
“The system is working because it was put on hold and identified,” Whyte said, adding that now is the time that companies and health agencies have to work together to be transparent with their data and information, which will help with overall public perception.
“[People] want a transparent process,” he said. “They want to be able to hear from scientific experts – explain to me how this was expedited and no corners were cut. People will be responsive to that.”
One of the reasons the process has been able to speed up, Whyte said, is because there is still so much virus out in the environment. With other typical vaccine timelines, by the time the candidate was ready for trial the virus being targeted had largely subsided, making it harder to find participants and controls.
On the other hand, once a vaccine is approved the public’s shifting attitudes toward the virus, which has become a focus of the 2020 presidential campaign, may present several hurdles when it comes to formulating a vaccination campaign.
“There’s no doubt physicians and health professionals are going to have challenges in getting people vaccinated when it comes to COVID, based on fear from what they hear in the news and it being expedited and political agendas,” he said.
“But what we haven’t done is look at the positive which is the innovation,” he said. “We had nothing in January – and here we are with multiple candidates – that’s a success, but we have to be transparent about it and we haven’t been.”
Whyte said it also will be vital for physicians to explain to patients – especially those in vulnerable populations – that the benefits of being vaccinated outweigh the risks of contracting COVID-19.
Another concern will be how to distribute it through the population, as struggles with annual flu vaccination supplies, and even COVID-19 testing kits, signal it may prove difficult. Targeting those most at-risk will be crucial, Whyte said, with a staggered approach in vaccinating the rest of the population likely to be most successful.
“It’s no easy task,” he said, “everyone can’t line up tomorrow at CVS.”