You might think that everyone wants a vaccine for COVID-19 as soon as possible, but you would be wrong. Hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine are currently being produced and stored around the world. In September Matt Hancock revealed that the UK was making 30 million doses of vaccine: enough to innoculate half the population. “They are starting to manufacture those doses already, ahead of approval, so that should approval come through then we are ready to roll out,” he said. However there are people trying to delay release of these life-saving vaccines to the public for political reasons.
The World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the agency would not endorse any vaccine until its safety was proven by at least 12 months of clinical trials, postponing the vaccine well into 2021 or even 2022. He also warned that drug companies offering drugs not officially approved would be liable to lawsuits. Most drugs have some undesireable side effects, so the threat of being sued by anybody claiming to have lost a few weeks off work due to bad headaches or the like, is an issue that has to be sorted out before the vaccines can go on the market.
This has forced vaccine makers to lobby for legal protection from governments ordering their vaccines before the vaccines can be made available, causing delays in the estimated release dates of the vaccines. AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), Merck, Novavax, Pfizer, Sanofi, Takeda, Abbott and CureVac are all currently entering into talks with the US and EU to try and find a solution to this problem. Vaccine supply is unlikely to proceed until this issue is resolved.
The World Health Organization refers to the events of 1976 when a rushed-out flu vaccine led to some deaths and a media frenzy. The CDC subsequently stated that about one in every 100,000 people who got the vaccine became ill, and some died. This is being presented as an example as to why COVID-19 vaccines should not be rushed. However there are many important differences between 1976 and 2020.
In 1976 the virus was not a deadly pandemic killing one million people world-wide. Statistics to date show that 100,000 people left without vaccine will result in an average of 2000 people becoming infected with COVID-19, and 40 people dying from COVID 19 during a 6 month period (Worldometers). To date there is only 6 months of data but it is clear that as time goes by more of those 100,000 people will become infected and the death rate will rise beyond 400 per 100,000. Studies also show that many of the COVID-19 survivors will suffer long-term lung and heart damage (Journal de Infection), (American Medical Association), (European Urology), etc.
If the historical "worst case" vaccine disaster of 1976 repeated itself, it could cause one death for every 100.000 vaccines, but would save over 400 deaths per 100.000 by giving COVID-19 protection.
The leading vaccines have each tested around 20,000 people without serious side effects so far, which would clearly not be enough to approve a new treatment for pain relief, but is enough to show that the risks of taking a vaccine are considerably less than remaining unprotected against a deadly virus that kills 2% of the people it infects.
The problem is that vaccine producers are being threatened with lawsuits for every bad reaction to a vaccine, whilst nobody is threatening lawsuits for people dying from COVID-19. Whilst that situation remains the vaccines will remain a long way off, as the World Health Organization has stated.
The World Health Organization has also warned vaccine producers to keep prices low and to distribute to poor countries, which is clearly impossible whilst lawsuits are being threatened. The AstraZeneca vaccine was set up as a non-profit vaccine, with cost being held to around $4 per dose to cover costs, but no drug company is going to risk financial ruin providing a non-profit vaccine. Either drug companies have to charge very high prices to generate funds to pay out lawsuit payments, making it a vaccine for the wealthy, or they have to wait a year until the World Health Organization finally gives approval. This may make sense in financial markets but makes no sense from a health point of view.
It is like people in a burning building being refused access to the fire escape until it has been tested and approved by the local authorities, in order to avoid a lawsuit if somebody falls off. So is this ridiculous situation being driven by political motives instead of science?
Political manipulation is hard to prove, but there is a mountain of circumstancial evidence. What is known is that the United States pulled its funding from the World Health Organization earlier this year because the World Health Organization helped China to cover up the truth. The World Health Organization originally stated publicly that the Chinese government had reported the dangers of the virus to the World Health Organization at the very beginning. That statement was untrue, and earlier this year the World Health Organization was forced to confess that it was untrue. The warnings had in fact come from US scientists, who raised the alarm after receiving warnings from Chinese colleagues defying the Chinese government by releasing information that the Chinese government was trying to cover up.
Why would the World Health Organization damage its reputation by giving China a false alibi? Is the World Health Organization's stance against a quick vaccine also being influenced by China, or a desire to get rid of Donald Trump as president so as to recover the funding that Biden has promised to restore, or are there other political issues at play?
With China's name tarnished by the escape of the virus, it would certainly work in China's favour to be the ones to produce any world-saving vaccine. Several Chinese officials were arrested in the US for hacking vaccine data earlier this year, so China is clearly very keen to control the outcome.
China has also had serious difficulties with the US President Donald Trump, who has forced China to renegotiate trade deals that Trump claimed were harmful to the US economy. Joe Biden and the Democratic party have expressed their desire to back China and return to the old trade deals if they win the elections in November 2020. China has stated very clearly that they want Joe Biden to win the US elections in November, and have a strong economic motive for manipulating the outcome in any way that they can.
Political experts on both sides seem to agree on one thing, that the coronavirus crisis as a vital aid in beating President Trump in the November elections, and the release of a vaccine before the elections would greatly improve Trump's chances of re-election. This has provided a very strong motive not only to hold up the release of the vaccine until after the elections, but to also generate an atmosphere of COVID-19 despair, in which vaccines are a very long way off, and the coronavirus crisis appears to have no end in sight. Many Democratic leaders have stated openly that they are against an accelerated release of a vaccine.
Social networks have also recently become flooded with slick propaganda campaigns against vaccines altogether. These campaigns are well funded and not the work of individuals. Few people support the idea of compulsory vaccines, so the right of each individual to decline does not seem to be under threat. However campaigners want to go beyond that and stop the COVID-19 vaccines for everybody for as long as possible, denying people who do want the vaccine the right to choose.
Sadly politics is playing a major role in slowing down COVID-19 vaccines from reaching the market, and in the meantime people are being denied the right to make their own choice as to whether or not they wish to take fast-tracked vaccines, or take their chances with other forms of protection, such as social distancing. We must remember that not all people have the freedom to socially distance. Front line workers and other essential workers are forced to put their lives at risk every day in order to keep health care and other services going for us all. Shouldn't they at least be entitled to decide for themselves whether or not to take a fast-track vaccine?