Distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations falls short of what was promised, The New York Times reported. The slow rollout is causing tension between state governments and the federal government, while the issue of convincing Americans to take the vaccine continues. The vaccine development resembles how antibiotics were developed.
According to The New York Times, the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines faces several hurdles. “The coronavirus vaccine may end the pandemic at some point, but for now its slow rollout is straining relations between the federal government and states and cities, and is adding one more huge challenge for overstressed health departments,” the article said.
“Surgeon General Jerome Adams said […] that the slow start to the vaccination campaign was due in part to the holidays, when many public health workers were on vacation. It was also a time when virus cases were surging nationwide, leaving fewer local public health resources available than if the vaccine had arrived when cases were under control.”
The process of vaccine development is similar to how antibiotics were developed.
“Vaccine development has been a long, complex process and sometimes lasts a decade or more, and involves a combination of public and private resources,” said Dr. Barry Fox, Clinical Professor of Infectious Disease at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “This includes oversight by the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, in collaboration with the CDC’s Immunization Safety Office. The exploratory stage usually lasts two to four years and consists of basic laboratory research.”
Dr. Fox said that pre-clinical activities involve using cultures and animals to test the safety of a vaccine, and can include mice and donkeys. If a vaccine can get past the pre-clinical trial stage, its sponsor submits an application to the FDA for it to be considered an Investigational New Drug.
If it gets approved, the vaccine goes through three stages of human testing with increasingly large clinical study groups, in which clinicians test the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.
“In order to encourage vaccine development in the United States, our government removed liability responsibility from pharmaceutical developers for approved vaccines,” Dr. Fox said. “The U.S. has a national vaccine injury compensation program for anyone injured by a vaccine.”
Four Types of Vaccines
Vaccines fall into four category types depending on how they build up the body’s immune system.
“[The categories include,] first, using live viruses, but weak enough not to cause disease,” Dr. Fox said. “Secondly, using inactivated or killed bacteria or viruses, such as polio vaccines in the United States and most influenza vaccines. Thirdly, using inactivated toxins known as toxoids of bacterial germs, such as diphtheria and tetanus. And fourth, using a portion of the germ coating, for example, the sugar coating of pneumococcus.”
Dr. Fox added that these categories of vaccines exist because individual microorganisms have specific weaknesses that can be targeted more efficiently to help build the body’s immune system. For example, the first kind of vaccine—the live attenuated vaccine, like rubella—is too weak to cause illness from the virus it carries, but it is strong enough to provoke an immune response from the body, when the body comes into contact with the virus in the future, preventing infection.
Meanwhile, the inactivated or killed vaccines are made by inactivating a pathogen, meaning that its ability to replicate inside your body is removed. Because of this, the isolated pathogen is found and destroyed by the immune system, which in turn doesn’t get overwhelmed by countless replications of the pathogen.
Although COVID-19 vaccinations remain behind schedule, several states have said they are ramping up their efforts to get shots into arms and are now showing progress.
Dr. Barry Fox contributed to this article. Dr. Fox is a Clinical Professor of Infectious Disease at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. He currently practices in clinical infectious disease at two hospitals and a long-term care facility. He received his undergraduate degree in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale University and his medical degree from Vanderbilt University.