Here’s Why We Can’t Rush a COVID-19 Vaccine


Patrick Boyle | Association of American Medical Colleges - TRANSCEND Media Service

Vaccines have saved humanity from countless scourges, including measles, polio, and smallpox. But the process of producing a safe, effective vaccine is necessarily painstaking, as the risk of harm is real.

A viral disease spreads across the globe, causing debilitating illness and death in numbers that mount by the day. Scientists race to develop a vaccine as panic grows, and within a year, millions of Americans get inoculated. The scourge recedes.

Jonas Salk holds two bottles of a culture used to grow polio vaccines in 1955
Jonas Salk holds two bottles of a culture used to grow polio vaccines in 1955.
Courtesy: University of Pittsburgh

Except for those who get one of the 120,000 doses that accidentally contain the live virus. Some 40,000 inoculated children contract a mild form of the disease. Dozens more children get stricken by the paralysis that the vaccine was designed to prevent, as do over 100 other people who pick up the virus from the inoculated children. Ten of them die.

Such tragic errors from inoculations against disease — this one from the polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk, MD, in the 1950s, one of the most successful immunizations in history — help to explain why an anxious world must wait up to two years for a vaccination to shield people from the potentially fatal novel coronavirus.

“We are moving as fast as humanly possible,” says research scientist Brooke Fiala during a break from working on a vaccine at the University of Washington’s (UW) Institute for Protein Design.

Yet bringing a vaccine from lab to public deployment proceeds at a glacial pace, and it’s a costly expedition. “From the creation of the idea to having a marketable vaccine is usually seven to 10 years or more, and about 1 billion U.S. dollars,” says Gregory A. Poland, MD, director of the Mayo Vaccine Research Group.

That’s by design: the design of human biology and procedures built to minimize harm.

“The basic history lesson when it comes to vaccines and immunization is that there always has been a risk and there always will be a risk,” says David S. Jones, PhD, the A. Bernard Ackerman professor of the culture of medicine at Harvard University.

Looking at the risks and the steps to mitigate them sheds light on some of the factors behind the long, expensive process.


Patrick Boyle is a senior staff writer.

The Association of American Medical Colleges leads and serves the academic medicine community to improve the health of people everywhere. Founded in 1876 and based in Washington, D.C., the AAMC is a not-for-profit association dedicated to transforming health through medical education, health care, medical research, and community collaborations.

Go to Original –

Tags: , , ,


Share this article:

DISCLAIMER: The statements, views and opinions expressed in pieces republished here are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of TMS. In accordance with title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. TMS has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is TMS endorsed or sponsored by the originator. “GO TO ORIGINAL” links are provided as a convenience to our readers and allow for verification of authenticity. However, as originating pages are often updated by their originating host sites, the versions posted may not match the versions our readers view when clicking the “GO TO ORIGINAL” links. This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Comments are closed.