Rapid COVID-19 vaccine development affects money not safety, La Crosse doctor says

Gundersen Health System's Dr. Raj Naik says phase three summer trials will highlight potential of possible COVID-19 vaccine
Vaccine development

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – As the number of COVID-19 cases across the country continues to climb many people are holding out hope that a vaccine will be here sooner than later. Right now it’s a race to get one in the hands of the public by early next year. This accelerated timeline begs the question of the effectiveness of a potential vaccine.

More than 525,000 minutes makeup a calendar year. That’s a long time right? It’s like traveling at the speed of light when talking about a vaccine that’s ready for people.

“Normally the process takes five or 10 years,” said Dr. Raj Naik from Gundersen Health System.

Naik said several companies, universities, and researchers are well on their way.

“A few weeks ago it was 109,” he said. “I just looked and now there’s something like 150 potential vaccine candidates.”

Vaccines have to go through three phases of human clinical trials.

“In the first phase, they test a very small amount of people,” Naik said.

Phase one looks at possible safety issues and dose amounts. Then they increase the number of people they test in phase two.

“Finally there’s the phase three trials which are the much larger-scale trials,” Naik said. “They’re not only looking at the first two things but also looking to assess the effectiveness of the vaccine.”

There are some vaccines going into phase three trials this summer. The risk associated with this fast pace is more about cost than cutting corners with research. Naik said safety is the first responsibility. The thing researchers are risking is money on their investment.

“We’re talking about millions of dollars when you’re losing trillions of dollars in economies of the world,” he said. “You can put that in perspective so the risk is worth it in this case.”

Phase three trials will answer a lot of questions. According to Naik, herd immunity is also important, but it will take much longer for that to stop this virus.

“To hope and expect that we can get to herd immunity levels through natural infection seems like not the ideal plan,” he said.

CBS News Medical Consultant Dr. David Agus said on Sunday there are reasons for optimism.

“The hope is we get game changers over the next couple months some of them are in development now and that’s exciting,” Agus said.

Naik said the fact there is so much attention paid to this effort has him hopeful.

“So many people, top researchers around the world are interested in making sure that we get an effective vaccine,” he said.

Not to mention the pride one would have creating a vaccine people will talk about for decades to come. Naik said the key to normalcy in society is some kind of vaccine.

“We need enough people immune that we will have enough people protected from this virus that we can go back to what we think of as a more normal existence,” Naik said.

Experts say the virus has been a slow mutator so far and is not affecting potential vaccines. A lot of companies are also developing therapeutic treatments to help reduce people’s symptoms from COVID-19.