Solomon under the inspiration of God penned this profound lesson in the book of Ecclesiastes: “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.” We summarize this concept in the phrase “History repeats itself.”
When I considered the COVID-19 vaccines I wondered, “Are there any history lessons I should consider when it comes to a new vaccine?” In my search, I came across an article published in 2013 entitled “Risk in Vaccine Research and Development Quantified” and discovered that even in our advanced technological age, the average vaccine requires 10.71 years to be developed. Even after 10+ years of development and safety studies, the probability of it actually getting approved to enter the market are 6% [Source]. Basically, in our time (this article reviewed vaccine production from 1998-2009) we have a >90% failure rate when it comes to safe vaccine production.
And this year, in a matter of months, we have somehow created three “effective” and “safe” vaccines?
Not all experts are in agreement on how safe these vaccines really are. But shockingly, any expert who suggests potential danger of this current vaccine is considered not backed by “science.” Even more disturbing, any content produced that presents recent scientific data suggestive of danger or risk with the vaccines is censored by popular social media and left out of the news (with the exception of a few “rare” side effects).
Interestingly, as I began to look into recent vaccine history, one incident in particular caught my attention regarding a vaccine for dengue virus known as Dengvaxia. The various phases of trial were performed, all indicators seemed to show that it was effective and perfectly safe, and the WHO gave its stamp of approval in 2016 for large-scale distribution. Mass vaccination began in the Philippines (and Brazil), but about 1 year later something showed up that the experts hadn’t quite realized the first time around…antibody-dependent enhancement [Source]. Unfortunately, this particular oversight led to the death of at least 60 children [Source]. That might seem like a small number to many, but it definitely was not a small number to the families who lost their little ones.
However, an important question arose: Were there any warnings by physicians prior to the Dengvaxia “rollout”?
When you look at the reports prior to approval we actually see multiple scientists and physicians warning against the very same events that occurred! Were those warnings heeded? It seems that a different priority existed that was higher than 1) being judicious, 2) heeding the counsel of fellow scientists and physicians, and 3) looking carefully into the concerns expressed prior to distribution.
Today, we have a mass vaccination program going forward on the high recommendation of expert opinion with limited long-term data available. The main reason long-term data is limited is simple – long-term data requires time and the COVID-19 vaccines just came out under emergency use authorization less than a year ago. To jump to a conclusion on safety and even recommending (in some cases enforcing) this vaccine to low-risk individuals such as young adults, teenagers, children, babies, even pregnant and breastfeeding women seems like a rash decision, and that’s putting it mildly.
As a matter of fact, just back in 2017 STAT News published on Moderna’s mRNA therapies saying, “But mRNA is a tricky technology. Several major pharmaceutical companies have tried and abandoned the idea, struggling to get mRNA into cells without triggering nasty side effects” [Source]. Has Moderna proven that they have overcome these challenges with convincing long-term data? The simple answer is no. Neither has any other company.
Many questions come up and remain unanswered. Will pregnant women have poor outcomes from these vaccines? Will babies develop birth defects from these vaccines? Will children have long-term complications with these vaccines? Will the vaccines increase the risk of certain cancers in the long-term?
The accurate answer to all these questions is…”we don’t know.” What we can say with confidence to anyone considering these vaccines under emergency use authorization is: “Caution: Side effect profile unknown.”