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EDITORIAL: As coronavirus vaccine impends, so does misinformation

As a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine appears on the horizon, so does misinformation from those for and against President Donald J. Trump's administration. – Photo by Wikimedia

As the march toward a working coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine reaches its sixth month, there is growing skepticism among the general public whether such a vaccine, if announced by the U.S. government, would be medically safe and functioning.

Under normal circumstances, members of the anti-vaccination movement — those who dismiss vaccines as either useless or, worse, the cause of disease — are routinely and rightfully ridiculed. 

But these are no normal circumstances. The average vaccine, for any ailment, takes a whopping 10 to 12 years to develop.

“An average vaccine takes (approximately) 10-12 years to be developed. This does not include those vaccine projects that did not make it to market but it does include a number of 'me too' vaccines (vaccines undifferentiated from those already on market). Those me-too vaccines are clearly the majority among past vaccine development projects and greatly influence the average time needed,” according to The Right Chemistry.

So it is not wholly irrational nor anti-science to be, at the very least, skeptical of a potential coronavirus vaccine arriving within months.

Earlier on in the pandemic — April, to be exact — most top health experts were estimating a 12-18 month timetable for the development and distribution of a vaccine, but even those calculations were considered quite optimistic.

“Officials like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the top infectious disease expert on the (President Donald J.) Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, estimate a vaccine could arrive in at least 12 to 18 months,” according to The New York Times.

Most vaccines are to combat previous inflictions, usually ills that have been commonplace for years. For instance, Dr. Jonas Salk announced the polio vaccine in 1952 — polio having existed for all of recorded human history. Needless to say, it took a while to develop.

On the contrary, the coronavirus is a new disease (though at this point, it is hard to imagine a world without it). It is certainly an imposing threat, foremost to our public health and secondarily to our economy, but that does not mean all medical barriers and norms cease to exist. Shortening the length of development for a vaccine by a factor of 10 is suspiciously convenient.

Capitalistically, medicine is a business like every other. Those who get the vaccine first will be the richest unless drastic measures are taken. There is an incentive for the medical industry to promote a weak vaccine, and there is no reason to think they will not again.

There is also no getting around Trump’s administration and the falsehoods it has peddled throughout this entire crisis. 

From calling the virus a “hoax” to lying about the effectiveness of certain drugs, Trump and his executive branch have consistently shown they cannot be trusted to combat this pandemic with a grain of truth or clarity. There is no reason to believe they would suddenly attain an honest bone of a vaccine rolled out. 

Even Bill Gates — who is on the forefront of funding vaccine development and distribution (and many conspiracy theories) — questions the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) on the validity of a potential vaccine.

“And he doesn’t trust the (CDC) either. Both, in his view, are casualties of a presidency that has downplayed or dismissed science and medicine in the pursuit of political gain,” according to Bloomberg.

This earned mistrust is part of the reason the United States has bungled its response so far, and why a vaccine could serve to complicate things further.

And all of this leads to two potentially devastating scenarios.

First, let us presume a legitimate, safe and working vaccine is developed by one of the many pharmaceutical companies who are working on it. The issue in that scenario is that a large portion of the public are rightfully skeptical of the politicized CDC and Trump, meaning that many may refuse to vaccinate and the crisis will extend longer than it has to.

A second scenario is that an unworking or even dangerous vaccine is rolled out. People are given a false sense of security or are harmed, and the crisis escalates even further.

The solution to this is clarity and outside verification. Believe it or not, there are experts who you can trust — namely Dr. Fauci and other non-political leaders, or foreign leaders from nations such as Taiwan who have combated the virus adequately. It is up to them to provide the public with unspun insight regarding a hypothetical coronavirus vaccine.

To the public: Listen to the experts who are not tied to money or politics.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.