In the race for a COVID vaccine, data matters more than time, Harvard professor says
As the world lunges toward a coronavirus vaccine at lightening speed, the endpoint isn’t a calendar date or the length of time spent in clinical trials, but rather data on safety and efficacy, according to a Harvard professor.
“In the protocols for clinical trials, time is not a major component,” said Barry Bloom, professor and former dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Many Americans may be concerned that a vaccine is being developed too quickly, but Bloom explained the decision for approval is not based on time, but rather the data gathered from participants and whether it provides a high degree of certainly about safety.
“It’s not a calendar date. It’s the data, not the date,” said Bloom in a Tuesday webinar.
He said it’s “almost certain” that at least one of the COVID-19 vaccine candidates currently in late stage trials will be shown to be safe and could get approved by the end of the year.
But there will be a limited supply, and no one company can produce enough doses for the global population in one swoop, so multiple vaccines will be needed, said Bloom.
“I think most of us in the scientific community are optimistic that several of these vaccines, and there many more behind them, are going to be found to be safe and effective,” said Bloom.
Gaining public trust in the vaccine will be a challenge and all members of the community will have to pitch in to increase confidence.
“Almost everybody trusts their physician. So that puts a huge opportunity and responsibility to get the most transparent, the most up-to-date and the most accurate information in a form that ordinary people like you and me can understand,” said Bloom.
The fastest a vaccine has ever been developed was four years for mumps, so Bloom said the scientific world is now working at “warp speed.”
“What we have is assurances at many, many levels that that will not compromise the objective, scientific, evidence-based analysis of whether the vaccine is safe or effective,” said Bloom.
The World Health Organization, from which the United States has withdrawn, is raising money to get equitable vaccine distribution in the areas that need it most.
Bloom said it’s “very sad” to see the U.S. in such a position.
“The U.S. has been seen as the leader in global health … we’ve withdrawn from that role and I think that’s bad for the U.S.,” said Bloom.
Another negative force on the vaccine hunt is misinformation “from people with political agendas,” said Bloom.
Getting down to a community level to inform people about vaccination will be the best approach for compliance, he said.