Donald Trump has called on researchers to “slash red tape like nobody has even done it before” to accelerate the development of vaccines for the novel coronavirus. But is fast-tracking the development of a vaccine really such a good idea?
Historically, rolling out a vaccine prematurely has had some pretty nasty side effects. For example, the campaign to vaccinate against the 1976 version of swine flu turned out to leave hundreds of people with a rare nerve disorder. Meanwhile, a vaccine used in some countries in Europe against the H1N1 swine flu left some with sleep disorder, narcolepsy.
However, given the extreme circumstances of the exponential spread of the novel coronavirus, many researchers felt they should not wait too much longer, and so have headed to Trump’s orders. In particular, this has led a Massachusetts-based biotechnology firm called Moderna to skip animal trials and begin testing a new vaccine on humans immediately.
Rather than using an inactive form of the virus, the researchers behind the new vaccine have designed synthetic RNA molecules to inject participants with, in the hope that their bodies will recognize them as the virus itself and begin to produce antibodies that will also be effective against the real thing.
As a similar technique has been used in the creation of other vaccines, either successfully or without huge risk to the participants' health, the researchers are fairly confident that the vaccine shouldn’t have too many negative side effects. As such, aside from regular health checks, they mainly warn participants to take care of the site of injection, particularly looking out for redness or swelling.
Having already recruited several volunteers already, the researchers hope to recruit 45 patients in total. During the study, each participant is set to receive a two-dose vaccination schedule 28 days apart, and must keep a regular log of their temperature and any symptoms experienced throughout. They will be monitored for 14 months and will undergo regular blood tests to keep track of their immune systems’ responses.
Meanwhile, as Moderna is optimistic that its vaccine will work, it has already begun to scale up its manufacturing activity to prepare for en masse production.