Selfishness and Stupidity?
We have vaccines. Now, pharma’s mission is to address novel variants. And vaccine hesitancy.
Stephanie Sutton | | Opinion
The end of February saw the FDA approve another COVID-19 vaccine: Janssen’s single-shot vaccine – developed using the company’s AdVac platform (1). Janssen has also applied for conditional marketing authorization with the EMA.
What the scientific community has achieved in terms of COVID-19 vaccine development over the last 12 months is incredible, but it’s not over yet. A number of SARS-CoV-2 variants could affect the efficacy of current vaccines; for instance, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was reported to be less effective at preventing COVID-19 cases caused by the “South African” variant of the virus – and roll out has been halted in South Africa (2).
But action is being taken. Pfizer and BioNTech recently commenced a study looking at a third dose of its vaccine and how it protects against newly emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants (3). The FDA has released policies to guide developers addressing variants and the EMA has issued guidance that outlines requirements for vaccine manufacturers that are planning to modify their vaccines (4,5).
I’m not worried about the science or vaccine success. The pharma industry has already proven it is up to the task.
I am concerned about the public. Though many people applaud the speed at which pharma has moved, others are suspicious that the vaccines are rushed and unsafe. COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy stories are rife. For a person of average intelligence, conspiracy theories are often mildly entertaining works of fiction, but the anti-vaccination movement is downright dangerous. Outbreaks of measles in recent years in the US have been linked to anti-vaxxers. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors and healthcare workers advocating for vaccination have even received death threats (6).
A UK survey conducted at the end of 2020 found that most British people consider anti-vaxxers “selfish” and “stupid” (7). But experts have also warned that negative attitudes towards anti-vaxxers are part of the problem and will do little to persuade doubters to change their views. A UK university is currently setting up a global taskforce to examine the issues of vaccine hesitancy – and has received £2.7 million (around US$3.7 million) under the EU’s Horizon 2020 program (8). The taskforce will “systematically” investigate vaccination attitudes among healthcare workers and analyze the arguments made by anti-vaccination activists to develop tools and techniques to challenge and refute such claims.
- FDA, “FDA Issues Emergency Use Authorization for Third COVID-19 Vaccine,” (2021). Available at https://bit.ly/3bP2Gvl
- E Mahase, “Covid-19: South Africa pauses use of Oxford vaccine after study casts doubt on efficacy against variant,” BMJ, 372 (2021). DOI: 10.1136/bmj.n372
- Pfizer, “Pfizer And Biontech Initiate A Study As Part Of Broad Development Plan To Evaluate Covid-19 Booster And New Vaccine Variants,” (2021). Available at https://bit.ly/3b3R3RZ.
- FDA, “FDA Issues Policies to Guide Medical Product Developers Addressing Virus Variants,” (2021). Available at https://bit.ly/3uIHSy3.
- EMA, “Adapting COVID-19 vaccines to SARS-CoV-2 variants: guidance for vaccine manufacturers,” (2021). Available at https://bit.ly/3bHf9B2
- Time, “The Vaccine Champions in France Defying Death Threats to Convert Anti-Vaxxers,” (2021). Available at https://bit.ly/37X6lGk.
- King’s College London, “How the public and social media users view anti-vaxxers,” (2020). Available at https://bit.ly/3kyWsnt.
- University of Bristol, “Global taskforce set to demystify and overcome vaccine hesitancy amid COVID-19 pandemic,” (2021). Available at https://bit.ly/3kySf2P.