The vaccine and the testing

David Wallace Wells writes in New York Magazine’s Intelligencer:

…[O]f the trio of long-awaited coronavirus vaccines, the most promising, Moderna’s mRNA-1273, which reported a 94.5 percent efficacy rate on November 16, had been designed by January 13. This was just two days after the genetic sequence had been made public… In Massachusetts, the Moderna vaccine design took all of one weekend. It was completed before China had even acknowledged that the disease could be transmitted from human to human, more than a week before the first confirmed coronavirus case in the United States. By the time the first American death was announced a month later, the vaccine had already been manufactured and shipped to the National Institutes of Health for the beginning of its Phase I clinical trial.

With this in mind, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone when Russia announced its own vaccine in May 2020. It’s the testing phase that makes all the difference in the world. The Russians said the vaccine was safe and effective in August, before Phase III trials. Back then, it looked like Putin was completely sold on the vaccine – to quote myself:

The old man seems genuinely convinced that the hastily concocted vaccine is a miracle cure… His propaganda machine is touting the coronavirus vaccine as an achievement on par with the Soviet artificial satellite – hence its name, Sputnik V.

The Intelligencer article linked above quotes vaccine scientists on the ways to shorten testing periods for vaccines in the future. Here’s Florian Krammer of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine:

In a just-published paper in Cell, he suggests it isn’t just that Phase I clinical work and the larger, longer Phase II safety trials which could be done preemptively… Some Phase III efficacy testing, he says, could be done then, as well — especially for existing rather than novel strains. “To look for immunogenicity… you don’t even have to develop the vaccine,” he says. “You can make antigens in the research center and just test it — that’s pretty inexpensive…”

If we do all that, he says, the entire timeline could be compressed to as few as three months.

I don’t know if the Russian vaccine developers and testers had thought and acted along the same lines when they declared their vaccine ready for a rollout. It’s a politically sensitive subject so transparency isn’t great for the general public.

What we do know is the general public in Russia doesn’t trust the vaccine and this mistrust is growing. According to Levada Center – a relatively independent pollster – 53% of Russians were not ready to get a Covid-19 shot in August. Three months later, the percentage grew to 59%.

No surprise here: Russians prefer vaccines produced in the EU or Israel when it comes to giving the usual shots to their children – MMR, DTaP and so on. The general sentiment seems to be that immunizations probably don’t cause autism but Russian-made vaccines are poor quality, substandard, “dirty,” and have more side effects that “clean,” Western-made vacs.

On top of this, there’s the usual selective mistrust of the government. At least it’s rational in this case because the downside to getting a Covid-19 shot is falling seriously ill – while the downside, say, to believing that America is the the Great Satan or that Donald Trump won the 2020 election is not somatically signficant.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *