Dr. Birx: There are no short cuts in the COVID-19 vaccine development process


WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — As a handful of biotech companies enter phase three of vaccine trials, doctors and White House officials are working to instill confidence in the coronavirus vaccine that results from operation “Warp Speed.” In medical labs across the country, hundreds of companies are trying to accomplish in one year what doctors say typically takes 10 to 20.

Some of the world’s largest biotech firms including Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer are currently in phase three trials.

“American public should be assured. There are no short cuts in the vaccine development part,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.  She says none of the vaccine candidates is skipping out on the science.

“When this vaccine comes off the line, I can tell you it will have met the criteria of any vaccine in the United States,” said Birx.

Instead, operation Warp Speed is putting hundreds of billions of dollars toward mass producing a number of different trial vaccines before they’re fully tested-something that’s never been done before.

“We’re going to manufacture those at risk before we know they work, so that there are vials of this coming off right now,” said Birx. She says when one vaccine is proven to be successful, a large number of doses will have already been prevented, and could be shipped to states that very day.

“If it works, perfect. Now we’ve saved months. If it doesn’t work we’ve got to throw all those doses away,” said Dr. Rick Kennedy, Co-Director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic.

He says operation Warp Speed is expensive, but given the level of death and rising coronavirus case numbers, he says it’s a good approach. But he urged caution.

“A bad vaccine immediately is going to be a disaster,” said Kennedy. “What we really need is a safe and effective vaccine as fast as possible.”

Kennedy says it’s critical developers not cut corners that could sacrifice safety.

“My concern would be that we make sure not to skip any steps that are important,” said Kennedy.

A typical vaccine goes through four phases of development. Phase one tests for general safety on about 50 people. Phase two tests whether the vaccine builds immunity, typically involving between 100 and 1,000 people. Phase three is a large scale test, involving tens of thousands of people to ensure the vaccine is effective on at-risk populations. Phase four tests the long term effects of the vaccine, spanning years after the vaccine is already in widespread use.

Dr. Ted Ross with the Center for Vaccines and Immunology at the University of Georgia says creating a successful vaccine is just the beginning

“We’ve had an effective polio vaccine now for 60 years. And yet we’re still vaccinating people against polio trying to eradicate that virus,” said Ross.

He says keeping the virus at bay will require the vast majority of the world’s population to get the vaccine.

“So it takes a long time to be able to immunize the world’s population, and right now those conversations need to be happening in government agencies across the world,” said Ross.

Members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force like Dr. Birx say following Centers for Disease Control guidelines and wearing masks will go a long way toward slowing the spread of the virus while the country await the results of operation Warp Speed.  

Doctors on the White House Coronavirus Task Force say they expect a successful vaccine could be developed by January of 2021 at the earliest.

Watch an exclusive interview with White House Coronavirus Task Force members Secretary Alex Azar, Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, and Dr. Deborah Birx on NewsNation on WGN America.

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