COVID-19 Vaccine Development and Public Opinion

Matthew Odom, contracted COVID-19  earlier this year  and survived the virus even with some pre-existing  kidney issues. The Mercer graduate, and award winning  photographer said he contracted the disease over the summer and, initially did not know he had it.  

“I got it in July. I turned out to be asymptomatic and the only reason I found out that I had it was because I went to get tested,” Odom said.  He explained how he tried to safely return to work when businesses opened back up in Georgia.

Photographer Matthew Odom working on assignment in Atlanta, GA (Photo by Tyrone Myrick)

“And  somewhere along the line there I caught the virus.  I guess from just  being out there. The actual response time for testing when it first started was  absolutely horrible. It took right at one week before I could get my result back,” Odom said.

Odom said he will not be among the first to take any new COVID vaccine when it becomes available to the public. Even after contracting the disease,  Odom is reluctant at this point because he wants a vaccine to be vetted for a longer period of time.

“I would like to see thorough lab results as far as the amount of people, how many are sick, and if any of these individuals being tested have pre-existing conditions? If so, has there been any any change in their condition during or after the trial,” Odom said.

And Odom adds that he would be absolutely “horrified” if a vaccine was made available within the month. 

Currently, the best way to prevent the coronavirus (COVID-19) illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. There is no known cure.    

Health officials are looking to the development of  a COVID-19 vaccine designed to provide some defense against the virus. Several companies are involved in the research, and at this time are at different phases of the study.  

U.S. Food and Drug Administration ( FDA) stated   that as a regulatory agency it is committed to approving a COVID-19 vaccine quickly, but safe for public use.  

 “We are committed to expediting the development of COVID-19 vaccines, but not at the expense of sound science and decision making. We will not jeopardize the public’s trust in our science-based, independent review of these or any vaccines,” according to the FDA’s website.

But what is different about this vaccine’s development is “expediting” of the time table. Dr. Martin D’Souza, who is the Director of Graduate Programs at Mercer University’s College of  Pharmacy and an expert in the areas of drug delivery and pharmaceutics, explained there are generally Four Phases of vaccine development. 

Phase one is clinical trials where doctors look at safety issues including negative side effects for the volunteers participating . Phase Two is the very limited efficacy study to see if the vaccine is working effectively. Phase Three is the critical study of the larger population. It’s the large-scale multi-center, multi country phase where scientists want to make sure a vaccine works in different patient populations, and all of ethnic groups. Phase Four looks for strange side effects that may develop over a longer period of time.

“So typically, a vaccine takes five to 10 years from start to finish, to show up on the market.  We don’t have five to 10 years in this particular instance. But the hope is that at least it will go through its normal procedures, with checks and balances,” D’Souza said.

Mercer University College of Pharmacy faculty member Martin D’Souza, Ph.D., has been involved in vaccine research to fight COVID-19. He says a vaccine is possible by spring of 2021. (Photo courtesy of Mercer University)

He expressed concern about a quicker approval process for a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Rarely will a vaccine be dangerous, but a vaccine may, or may not work, and I think that’s the concern here,” D’Souza said.  He points out that for a vaccine to be fully tested to be safe and effective, it needs a certain timeline, and the challenge facing scientists now is how to speed that timeline up. 

“At the end of the day, this fast tracking thing is really, really iffy. For example, you can’t test safety over an extended period of time to any fast tracking mechanism, there isn’t any way to speed that up,” he said.

D’Souza said a big part of the process is waiting to see the outcome.  Based on the standard phases for vaccine development, D’Souza said he does not expect a vaccine to be ready by this month or next month. He said that’s an “illusion that won’t happen.” 

“Even the bravest company is not going to dare to bring it out,” D’Souza added.

However, D’Souza explained, if a company can complete Phase Three of the study, a COVID-19 vaccine is possible by spring of 2021.

“So even if we can get through phase three to make sure that it works and with different ethnic groups, I think if that is allowed to happen, we have a fairly good chance of getting a reasonable vaccine, I would say by April, or May of next year,” D’Souza said.

But public opinion remains divided over whether or not to take a vaccine when it does become available.

According to a recent  Pew Research poll taken in early September and involving more than 10,000 people, there’s almost an even split among Americans over whether or not to take the COVID vaccine.  

The opinions are split around Macon too. On a recent day along Mulberry Street, people were both apprehensive and anticipating a COVID-19 vaccine. 

John Flanders said “Of course” he would take a vaccine against COVID-19, if ready next year.  “I already take a flu vaccine so why not take one for COVID-19 as well.”  

Tammy Williams said “Yes” she would take the vaccine. “It could help save my life,” she said. “If they come up with a vaccine that can help save peoples lives, I think it is important. If they come up with a vaccine, we should all try to take it.”  

However, almost the same number of people in the same few city blocks said “No,” they would not take a new COVID-19 vaccine.

 “Absolutely not, not under no circumstances,”  Chris Ordill said. “I think there is a long history of bad relationships with people and vaccinations. I think there’s been enough bad history with that until I don’t trust any vaccinations right now. Especially with something that’s so brand new and there is so much unknown behind it.”

D’Souza said if a vaccine makes it through the stages next year, then he would encourage everyone to take it.

“That is my number one and highest recommendation, take the vaccine, the vaccines are not going to kill anyone,” he said. “So they’re not unsafe. In the event that it doesn’t work, as well  because we have not had the time to test due to the difficulties of fast tracking,  if they continue to wear the mask, be smart, and  social distance, like they’re doing right now, I think that will be a win-win situation for everyone.” 

D’Souza also strongly advised people not let their guard down once a  COVID-19 vaccine is on the market. He said they should continue to wear face masks right now, “It is the only real protection and prevention.”

The FDA has said it would approve a COVID-19 vaccine that is at least 50% effective and scientists are hoping for at least 75% effectiveness.