Is too much hope being put into a coronavirus vaccine?

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

It’s a commonly accepted truth that the only way the coronavirus pandemic will come to an end is through the development of an effective vaccine. The effort to accomplish that goal has been underway for months in countries around the world, at a scale and speed that have never been seen before.

There are currently more than 100 potential vaccines in some stage of development, some of which have advanced to human trials. The Trump administration launched “Operation Warp Speed” in May with the goal of having millions of doses available by the end of the year. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, recently said he was “cautiously optimistic” a vaccine could be ready by early 2021.

Experts say the virus will continue to spread until about 70 percent of the population has developed immunity. A vaccine is the quickest and safest way to establish what’s known as “herd immunity.” The other path — waiting until enough people have been infected — could lead to millions of deaths, epidemiologists say.

Why there’s debate

Despite promising progress on a number of vaccine candidates, there are still significant reasons to be skeptical of the idea that a game-changing vaccine is just a few months away, experts say. Developing a vaccine by the end of the year or even by next summer would shatter the record for the fastest vaccine ever developed, which currently stands at four years. Even if that extraordinary feat is accomplished, drug companies will still need to produce hundreds of millions of doses and distribute them to the people who need them.

It’s possible that will happen, but some experts worry about investing too much in what would be a best-case scenario. “We’ve never seen everything go perfectly,” a former Trump administration health official told Congress. A better plan, some argue, would be to prepare as if it might take years before a vaccine is widely available by developing effective systems of testing, tracing and therapeutic medicines that can last as long as they’re needed. There is even concern that the idea of a vaccine being right around the corner may be holding back efforts to put the virus mitigation measures we need right now in place.

Others have suggested that rushing development may backfire by increasing the risk that an unsafe vaccine might be the first to make it to market. Any setbacks could increase already pervasive anti-vaccine sentiment among the public, which may undermine herd immunity. There is also the possibility that any new vaccine may not be entirely effective or may provide immunity only for a short period of time.


Vaccine skepticism may make reaching herd immunity difficult

“An approved coronavirus vaccine won’t do any good if people aren’t willing to roll up their sleeves for it.” — Editorial, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A vaccine won’t be a magic solution, but it’s still the best path out of the pandemic

“If you’re imagining there’ll be one golden day when a vaccine is approved and the pandemic will be over — Finally! We can all crowd into one another’s living rooms and resume choir practice again — I’m afraid it won’t be quite like that. But it will be the beginning of the end. There’s much to be hopeful about, and enormous challenges lie ahead.” — Caroline Chen, ProPublica

The supply chain for vaccine materials could break down

“It would be a shame if production and supply chain bottlenecks, such as the ones faced for medical supplies, slow down vaccine availability after discovery. Production must be done globally to prevent bottlenecks, hoarding and to facilitate efficient distribution of vaccines to local clinics.” — Krishna B. Kumar, Mahshid Abir and Christopher Nelson, The Hill

Waiting on a miracle cure in the future is causing unnecessary deaths right now

“Like an overly optimistic doctor, some policymakers are banking on a future vaccine that, at best, may arrive in 2021 while people are sick and dying now and the economy continues to be hobbled with an unclear path forward to stability. The tragedy is that there is a playbook that can reduce the number of cases and deaths right now.” — Eric Schneider, Los Angeles Times

We shouldn’t neglect other mitigation measures while we wait for a vaccine

“Cheap and easy testing would dramatically reduce COVID-19 transmission and deaths, and better prepare us for future such pandemics. Vaccine development can continue in parallel. Our nation deserves to get back to normal as soon as feasible. We shouldn’t be a gambler at a casino, betting everything on one number. Lives aren’t chips. We have options other than a vaccine. Let's use them.” — Dr. Sudhakar V. Nuti, Samuel R. Turner and Dr. Howard P. Forman, USA Today

We should be putting the same resources toward treatments as we are a vaccine

“Dozens of approaches could serve as a valuable bridge, from repurposed drugs to bespoke antibody cocktails. None can replace the value of a vaccine in getting the world back to normal, but the availability of more treatment options for sick patients could help to increase the chances of a faster and fuller recovery, and reduce the lethality of the disease.” — Max Nisen, Bloomberg

It’s possible that a coronavirus vaccine may never come

“There is no guarantee that such a vaccine will ever be discovered, much less be effective or safe. … Vaccine science is notoriously unpredictable. Despite decades of research, there is still no vaccine to prevent viral infections like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, herpes simplex, Zika, West Nile or norovirus.” — Katherine Seley-Radtke and Josh Bloom, Baltimore Sun

The vaccine may be too expensive for average Americans to get it

“There’s been little action in Congress on the one thing that actually could get things back to normal: ensuring an affordable COVID-19 vaccine that could curtail the spread of the disease. The first step is obviously the investment we’re already seeing to create the vaccine, but the second step is just as important: regulation and accountability to ensure that medicines we’re paying to develop are accessible to all.” — Margarida Jorge, Marketwatch

Trump could rush out a flawed vaccine for political reasons

“Thousands of Americans have already died as Donald Trump has perpetually postponed effective public health interventions and made poor therapeutic recommendations. We must be on alert to prevent him from corrupting the rigorous assessment of safety and effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines in order to pull an October vaccine surprise to try to win re-election.” — Ezekiel J. Emanuel and Paul A. Offit, New York Times

It’s unlikely that a vaccine will eradicate the coronavirus completely

“If and when we have a vaccine, what you get is not rainbows and unicorns. If we are forced to choose a vaccine that gives only one year of protection, then we are doomed to have Covid become endemic, an infection that is always with us.” — Vaccine expert Larry Brilliant to Guardian

A rushed vaccine may not be safe

“The excitement and enthusiasm for a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2020 is both palpable and understandable. … But there are risks that come with a fast-tracked vaccine delivered end of this year, not the least of which are the risks related to the safety of the vaccine itself. Telescoping testing timelines and approvals may expose all of us to unnecessary dangers related to the vaccine.” — William A. Haseltine, Scientific American

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images