A fast-tracked vaccine is on the way, but is the public willing to get the jab?

With human trials of a potential COVID-19 vaccine beginning in Adelaide, will South Australians trust the fast-tracked result? (Image source: Chemistry World)

By Lauren Wisgard | @LaurenWisgard

As COVID-19 vaccine trials are being fast-tracked around the world, public opinion is varied on whether people will trust the result.

Human trials for a potential vaccine have already commenced at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, the potential vaccine being developed by Adelaide-based company Vaxine.

Vaxine’s research director Professor Nikolai Petrovsky told the ABC that this first phase of the trial is to test if the vaccine candidate will create the antibodies required to kill the virus.

“I am very confident there will be successful vaccines against COVID-19,” Mr Petrovsky said.

“Our modelling data showed in January this was likely to be a major pandemic … this is the culmination now of four months of very intense work.”

He also told the ABC that if the vaccine is successful, one could be available as early as next year.

Some public health experts have raised concerns about the accelerated speed of development, particularly as countries such as China approved a vaccine for their military, despite unfinished trial processes.

Byram Bridle, a viral immunologist at the University of Guelph in Canada told Chemistry World that conducting science too fast could risk comprising the need to properly assess the safety of the potential vaccines.

“A vaccine that is ineffective and/or unsafe will not be useful,” Ms Bridle said.

But whether a vaccine becomes available in six months or a year, the most important part is the public’s trust in the product as without voluntary immunisation, the community cannot be protected.

On The Record spoke to three South Australians to gauge how everyday civilians are feeling about receiving a vaccine available to the public quicker than normal.

Software developer Sven, 57, said that while there’s always a risk with a vaccine the benefits outweigh any potential concerns.

“It’s important for a decent majority of the public to get the vaccine, to build what is referred to as herd immunity,” he said.

“Being in a low risk group I don’t feel the need to be ‘at the front of the queue’, but after say, six months, I’d get the vaccine.”

Research scientist Carol, 60, also said she would feel comfortable receiving a vaccine, as safety testing and processes will still be paramount despite the overall process being shorter.

“I believe it can be done without sacrificing the quality of the vaccine … as long as there is the expertise and funding behind it, which there is now, then it can be done faster than normal,” she said.

However, not everyone is as trusting in an expedited treatment for the virus, as 19-year-old university student Harriet said that the possibility of serious long-term side effects are not worth the promise of a vaccine sooner than expected.

“I personally have nothing against vaccines, however if it is not proven that this particular vaccine will be effective and is safe to administer to humans, then I highly doubt I would feel comfortable receiving it,” Harriet said.

“It will not help society to rush and release a vaccine, if it does not successfully do the job it was made to do.”

The concerns are not unfounded, especially considering a vaccine normally takes five to ten years to develop.

Despite the overall process taking far less time than normal principal investigator Professor David Gordon, a microbiologist and infectious diseases physician with SA Pathology, said in a statement that the current trials are first of several planned and safety testing of immune response to the vaccine will be involved.

“Members of the public have stood up to be amongst the first people in the world to receive a trial vaccine. Their actions could help us find a permanent solution to this devastating global pandemic,” Dr Gordon told RAH News.

Carol also said that trust in the government and health system is what will get society through this period.

“Trust is the key thing that’s going to get our society through this … and [receiving a vaccine] is the only way we’re going to go back to something like normal life.”

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