ROCHESTER, M.N. (WHO 13) – The race to a COVID-19 vaccine has been a sprint, which is making some Americans unsure if they will receive one once it’s in the United States.
On Thursday, an independent panel of experts overwhelmingly voted in favor of recommending that the FDA authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. When one is approved, healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents will be given the vaccine first.
Mayo Clinic doctors understand the hesitancy, but want the public to know no safety shortcuts were taken.
“It’s understandable that we have a public that’s a little skeptical and a little hesitant because this vaccine has been developed with astonishing speed,” Dr. Melanie Swift, an occupational medicine physician at Mayo Clinic, said. “Vaccines are held to a higher standard than any other pharmacologic that’s approved because we’re administering it to millions of people who are perfectly healthy. The very first principle of the Hippocratic Oath is ‘do no harm.’ So we must make sure that these are safe, and that all these vaccine safety precautions are in place, even though we’re rolling it out very quickly.”
Dr. Swift said Operation Warp Speed has removed the barriers to allow more companies to enter the vaccine race. With more than 200 vaccines being studied all over the world, Pfizer and Moderna are the two leading the charge.
Dr. Abinash Virk, an infectious disease physician at Mayo Clinic, said we can rely on the data we’re getting through these studies due to the safety standards applied.
“Other vaccine studies when they go through the phase three trials, similar to the Pfizer one that just is being reviewed, generally have about 5,000 to 6,000 people in them,” Dr. Virk explained. “All the approvals we’re talking here about 44,000 and 30,000 people so magnitudes of higher numbers. The reason why we have higher numbers coming back to that timeline issue is that we have a pandemic going on and we have so many people who can and could enroll and hence we have this large number of people.”
The vaccine rollout will take some time, so people are urged to stay vigilant. Even when people do start to get vaccinated, it doesn’t mean the masks can come off and social distancing can stop.
“Until the majority of the population is vaccinated and protected against COVID-19, the risk of COVID-19 transmission will continue,” Dr. Virk said. “And thus we will have to wear our masks, until we have evidence to say that transmission has gone down enough to essentially stop doing any of that.”
Given the unknowns, Mayo Clinic says pregnant or lactating women, transplant patients, and kids should not receive the vaccine just yet. They hope to learn more as the research continues.