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Safe and effective: Scientific standards will back the COVID-19 vaccine


The COVID-19 vaccine cannot come fast enough for our families, community and country. The global effects of a pandemic have been felt throughout 2020 both here at home and far beyond our borders. We look forward to a new year with public health solutions that allow us all to move forward safely.


Pfizer’s recent announcement of a vaccine with 90% effectiveness inspired hope for a better year with a tangible solution on the horizon. It is one of the many efforts taking place to mitigate the spread of the virus by offering a clinical solution for the masses.


As a retired pediatrician with more than 40 years of serving Oklahoma’s children, I often remind parents that vaccination is the foremost medical advancement in history.


Now more than ever for many adults, the importance of safe and effective vaccinations is apparent as a way to prevent disease. Older Americans may remember the polio epidemic or the prevalence of childhood diseases like mumps and measles, but their effects have been largely forgotten thanks to the efficacy of vaccination campaigns. We hope to add the virus to that list in the near future.


Operation Warp Speed is the collaborative federal effort dedicated to research and development of a COVID-19 vaccine. It is a collaboration between agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and the Department of Defense (DoD). Researchers will collaborate throughout the world until a safe and effective vaccine can be fully tested, approved and distributed. Even as the push for a vaccine intensifies, our scientific community continues to follow established protocols as part of necessary due diligence. The pauses that routinely occur in clinical vaccine trials make it evident they are being closely monitored. When concerns arise, the federal agencies, private companies and skilled professionals involved are willing to delay the trial because they are tasked with safety and therefore disregard the costs incurred that impact finances, reputation and a release timeline. Safety and effectiveness are the bottom line and cannot be rushed.


So much of medical science is based on weighing the risk of an intervention versus its benefit -- a fact I can attest to after decades in the field. If there is any significant risk from a vaccine, it will be discontinued, whether that risk shows up in the initial evaluation phase or after release for general use. Monitoring a vaccine never stops, a fact not always visible to our patients but recognized as part of standard practice behind the scenes. Both the polio and the pertussis vaccines, for example, were improved 40 years after their initial release with safety and effectiveness as guiding principles to improve upon them even after they had already met rigorous standards.


Through the life work of so many professionals, we now know so much more about vaccines and the science that supports them to combat preventable illness. In a good faith effort to control the challenges COVID-19 presents, diverse groups of experts are being armed with significant resources. I have no doubt they will be able to succeed more quickly than in the past. The release of the vaccine could reasonably be from two months to nine months, with access issues overcome by the start of planned vaccination programs.


How quickly we can confer immunity to large populations is dependent on many factors, some of which we have not thought of yet, but that will be tackled as efficiently as possible. Find out about the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s distribution plans here.


The human collective eagerly awaits a COVID-19 vaccine. With so many committed to a common goal, science will do what it does best: research, test and problem-solve, a process for which we can all be grateful as the year draws to a close.


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Dr. Don Wilber is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics with more than 40 years of experience. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine and has taken care of Oklahoma’s children since 1978. Dr. Wilber previously served as chair of the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Advisory Commission for Childhood Vaccines. He is a member of The Oklahoma Alliance for Healthy Families (OAHF).



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