We are probably much less aware of the concept and exact function of a viral vector vaccine than of the symptoms of infection. We should not be surprised by this, as in “peacetime” most people only come into contact with vaccines during flu season or with the mandatory vaccinations after their children are born. Since the various research and development of vaccines are generally carried out far from the attention of the general public, with complex professional protocols and strict official controls, it is not surprising that they are an easy target for anti-vaccine movements. A common feature of these movements is that they try to compensate for the lack of knowledge with suspicion and various conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, according to the results of the opinion poll conducted by Századvég in June 2019, the vast majority of the respondents in Hungary (91 percent) have no objection to vaccinations, while the group of opponents in this case is negligible (7 percent). Thus, it can be concluded that, in general, anti-vaccination initiations do not find a medium among the population, and only a fraction of the people are generally against vaccination.
Social perception of vaccine development
Based on a representative survey of 1,000 people conducted by Századvég in October 2020, the vast majority of Hungarians (90 percent) think that the Hungarian government should provide the vaccination against the coronavirus free of charge, and only 10 percent of the respondents had a different opinion.
The majority are primarily concerned about the possible side effects of the vaccines that are expected to be available on the market and would rather put off the vaccination based on the principle of “better to be afraid than scared”. This is an understandable – if not correct – reaction in an unfamiliar and professionally difficult field, such as vaccine development. While the bigoted websites propagating anti-vaccination cannot be convinced by reasoning and information, the silent majority can be.
It is important to dispel the fears about the vaccine
Unfortunately, the news about the Russian vaccine that is not well-documented and not recommended for chronic patients as well as the research controlled by the WHO and professionally documented in detail, is often blurred. However, it is important to know that the cautionary news was about one of the forty-two products that are in the clinical trial phase. This vaccine, which has not yet been properly tested, cannot be placed on the market in the European Union, and the Hungarian government is also committed to procuring the most promising and safest product. Thus, joining the EU vaccine distribution system, it has made a claim for 5 million doses of vaccine.
Currently, the testing of 11 vaccine candidates is underway in the wide range, the so-called Phase III testing phase, with the involvement of typically 30,000 volunteers each. The testing of certain candidates has been going on since July and is coming to an end. Regarding each testing, tens of thousands of people have already been vaccinated, and on the whole, this number is hundreds of thousands of people. Thus, there is no question of placing vaccines on the market without the usual testing procedures that is carried out by professionals and the authorities. This also means that by the time one or more vaccines become available, a large number of people will have been vaccinated, thanks to the large number of experiments that have been carried out.
The fact that the public knows little about the testing procedure is not a sign of a process that is not transparent. It just means that these are professional materials that are too dry for the general public, but, for example, anyone can access the key data on all testing phases of each vaccine candidate, with the names and positions of those responsible, the detailed criteria, the locations and periods, and even the availability of the primary source of information. A few clicks on the WHO website are enough. If a research institute was not willing to share its data and study protocols with the public, it would delist itself from the list of approved products.
Accelerating clinical trials does not mean breaking professional rules. All legal, regulatory and professional criteria are in effect as in the years before the pandemic. That is why there is no vaccine approved for marketing yet. By violating professional safety rules, the vaccine would already be available. It is the administration and organization where the licensing processes can be accelerated.
This can be illustrated through the following very simple example: imagine that a teacher wants to speed up the grading of papers. Previously, he/she waited for all the students and then started grading. But now he/she immediately starts grading the fastest students’ papers, and by the time the slowest student completes the paper, he/she has already completed a third of the task. He/she has remained as thorough and rigorous as before, and the acceleration of the process does not affect the end result of his/her work. In the vaccine testing procedures, compared to the previous practice, the procedure can be significantly accelerated by evaluating the partial results and the tense pace of voluntary recruitment. A new possibility is to merge the test phases, which also does not mean skipping one phase, but that two phases are implemented in one process. A consolidated Phase II-III test must meet all the criteria of the final test procedure.
VACCINE DEVELOPMENT PHASES IN SHORT
Preclinical phase – animal experiments, the evoked immune response is most commonly tested on mice and monkeys.
Phase I test – a test performed on a small number of people, examining the dosage necessary for evoking the immune response and the possible side effects.
Phase II test – a test with a few hundred people, examining the safety of the product and the reactions evoked in the case of different people (e.g. the elderly and the youth, etc.)
Phase III test – it is carried out with the involvement of thousands of people and with the establishment of a control group. It aims to determine the exact rate of effectiveness and to identify less common possible side effects.
Monitoring does not end after the possible authorization.
When deciding on a vaccination, we need to know that if only half of the population is vaccinated, it is not enough to develop herd immunity in itself, which would lead to the gradual disappearance of the virus. Thus, we cannot pass on our own protection or the safety of our elderly loved ones. The coronavirus pandemic can only become a part of the past if we take individual responsibility. If not for ourselves, for our environment. Looking at the issue of responsibility: A successful and timely licensed vaccine can be a prestigious form of recognition for the research institute and the manufacturer or the sponsoring company. However, if you aim high, you set yourself up to fall far. Thus, a possible failure or negative news about safety can cause so much damage to a company that no one dares to take this risk. We should not believe that pharmaceutical companies are only working with all their energy in the public interest to find a safe vaccine. It is also in their business interest to place the product on the market only after passing all the usual professional controls.
Probably no one is spending hundreds of millions of euros to end up ruining their own reputation with it.
From a business point of view, only a good vaccine will pay off.
Finally, perhaps the most important aspect that is always left out of the theories of those belonging to the anti-virus and anti-vaccination promoters: While they have been able to trigger doubt and suspicion, they have never been able to deliver a solution. So far, not a single movement of this type has revealed what the ultimate weapon is against such a pandemic. This is an important issue when we see that in the second wave of the pandemic, Western developed countries are once again reaching the limits of their health systems. What can guarantee that the economy will work again and that we will be able to live our old lives again without endangering the health of ourselves and our fellow human beings if not a safe and effective vaccine?