A common misperception that has led to vaccine hesitancy in healthcare workers and the public is the COVID-19 vaccines were produced with undue haste, seemingly coming out of nowhere to respond to the pandemic. The extensive scientific work with many other viruses that enabled the rapid development of the pandemic vaccines often is left out of the equation.

“The various vaccines present the spike protein to the immune systems in different way but with a common purpose: triggering the immune system to produce antibodies that neutralize the virus as soon as it is encountered, thereby preventing or limiting the infection,” two research scientists explained in an article. “Decades of work, first on the corresponding HIV spike protein and then its counterparts from other viruses, including SARS, MERS, and seasonal coronaviruses, showed how best to design and produce the SARS-CoV-2 version.”1

When people who are vaccine-hesitant cite this concern, it is important to remind them of the large clinical trials and the strong foundation of research that enabled a safe vaccine to be produced, Christienne Alexander, MD, associate professor at Florida State University College of Medicine, said at a recent webinar.

“Tens of thousands of people [were immunized or given placebo] before the vaccine was even authorized for emergency use,” she said. “All of those people had to pass through the various phases of trials in order for the vaccines to reach emergency use authorization by the FDA.”2

It is trickier to explain the connection of ongoing research to a vaccine for a novel virus, but Alexander told the vaccine-hesitant “they’ve been working on variations of this for coronavirus, and various other viruses for years.”

Of course, in the absence of a pandemic, there was no need to develop such a vaccine, but it was credit to ongoing research that it could happen so quickly.

“People [also] have to realize that when there’s a global pandemic, everything gets put on hold,” Alexander explained. “This becomes the primary focus. This vaccine became the primary focus for everyone globally. When we talk about ‘Well, why was it taking so long beforehand?’ Well, because we were working on other things, other things were more important, but this [vaccine] became the most important thing for the health of the world.”

To the inevitable protestation of not wanting to be a “guinea pig,” Alexander sometimes tells the vaccine-hesitant, “Well, I’ve gotten it and many [other] healthcare workers have received it. If anybody’s been a guinea pig, we were, as we went first. You can talk about it in lots of different ways so that the people that you’re talking to have a better understanding of the [vaccine] process.”

REFERENCES

  1. Moore JP, Wilson IA. Decades of basic research paved the way for today’s ‘warp speed’ Covid-19 vaccines. Stat. Jan. 5, 2021.
  2. Newswise. How to win over vaccine skeptics: Live expert panel for May 20, 2021.