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COVID-19 vaccine showing us a way through bureaucratic barriers, say researchers

Last Updated Dec 10, 2020 at 9:29 am PST

A nurse prepares a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy's Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, as the U.K. health authorities rolled out a national mass vaccination program. U.K. regulators said Wednesday Dec. 9, 2020, that people who have a “significant history’’ of allergic reactions shouldn’t receive the new Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine while they investigate two adverse reactions that occurred on the first day of the country’s mass vaccination program. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

COVID-19 vaccine development speed isn't a result of cutting corners, an expert says

Infectious diseases expert says, in some ways, work to develop vaccine has been going on for decades

'It's incredible what you can do when you really prioritize science,' expert says

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Researchers are hoping to calm concerns that COVID-19 vaccines have somehow been rushed or fast-tracked.

In fact, a leading infectious diseases expert says, in some ways, the work has been going on for decades.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch says a vaccine program that burst to life during the 2003 SARS outbreak laid the groundwork for research into an inoculation against COVID-19, and decades of research into cancer has given us the MRNA mechanism.

“They hit the ground running. In addition to that, when we look at the tools that are being used to develop vaccines for COVID-19, these are not new tools,” explains Bogoch, who is now a member of Ontario’s vaccination task force.

No cutting of corners, just red tape

He says it’s amazing what can be done when red tape comes down and the entire world directs money and efforts into a shared goal.

“It was truly, and still is truly, a global crisis, and it was prioritized as such early on. And, essentially, for many of these vaccine programs or vaccine developers, they had access to enormous, enormous funding and used it wisely.”

Other researchers say it’s a bad thing that vaccines took so long to develop in the past, blaming, in part, commercial indifference saying they would spend months and years begging for funding only to have research dropped if questions of profitability arose.

Mark Toshner is the director of translational biomedical research at the University of Cambridge and calls this cycle “a loop of doom.” He wrote about such struggles in a recent article for The Conversation.

“So next time somebody expresses concern at the astonishing speed the vaccine trials have happened at, point out to them that ten years isn’t a good thing, it’s a bad thing. It’s not ten years because that is safe, it’s ten hard years of battling indifference, commercial imperatives, luck and red tape.” he says.

“It represents barriers in the process that we have now proved are “easy” to overcome.”

Health Canada approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in this country on Wednesday. Canada is the third country in the world to give Pfizer’s drug the green light.

There have been concerns that the process was sped up and that not enough is known about potential side effects related to the vaccine.

However, Bogoch notes that all the necessary steps have still been taken in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“This is not new technology. When they started working on COVID-19, you have to look at what was actually done, and what they ended up doing was the exact same thing you would do for getting any other vaccine or drug onto the market. You do the scientific and laboratory work first, and then you move into human clinical trials,” he explains, adding there have been three phases of clinical trials.

“It’s incredible what you can do when you really prioritize science.”

Concerns over adverse reactions

The data resulting from the final phases of trials has been reviewed by Health Canada, as well as regulators in the U.K., who were first to approve the Pfizer vaccine for use last week.

Britain began its immunization campaign on Tuesday, and with that came reports of allergic reactions in two people with a history of allergies, who had received the shots.

These two people were staff members with the National Health Service who carried epinephrine. Both are recovering.

“Obviously it’s important to learn more about this. It’s also important to be completely open and honest and transparent with people about what we know and what we don’t know about these vaccines — because I think it would be foolish to say that we have all the answers. We clearly don’t. We have a lot of them, but we don’t have all of them,” Bogoch explains, adding people with severe allergic reactions were precluded from Pfizer’s clinical trials.

“So, to no surprise, if you have a severe allergic reaction and you’re carrying an EpiPen, you have allergies to some of the components of the vaccine, you shouldn’t get this vaccine. I think that’s pretty common sense.”

Currently, Health Canada is only advising people with allergies to the ingredients in the Pfizer vaccine to avoid it.

The health agency has said that it’s monitoring the situation closely and that it was working to get more information. Health Canada has assured it will not hesitate to take action if there are safety concerns.

Bogoch has stressed the importance of listening to people’s concerns, saying it’s normal for the public to have some.

Canada is expecting to receive up to 249,000 initial doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine by the end of this year.

Vaccination rollout programs are expected to begin as early as next week, with doses starting to arrive in locations across Canada in the coming days.