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Science Editor-in-Chief warns against ‘dangerous rush’ to find a Covid-19 vaccine

The head of one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals has written an article pumping the brakes on the international scramble for a Covid-19 vaccine.

In it, Holden Thorp, editor-in-chief of the Science journals, urges politicians not to cut corners as part of a ‘dangerous rush’ to find a vaccine, and to instead ensure existing protocols and rigorous testing are adhered to. 

It comes just days after Russian leader Vladimir Putin claimed his country created a jab which confers two years of immunity against the coronavirus. 

Official documents reveal the vaccine was approved after tests on only 38 people and ’causes side-effects including fever, pain and swelling’. 

The scientific community was outraged after learning of this ‘reckless, foolish and unethical’ development, and a leading voice has now further urged policymakers to proceed with caution.

‘Premature approval of a vaccine in the United States (or anywhere) could be a disastrous replay of the hydroxychloroquine fiasco but with much higher stakes’, writes Professor Thorp.

‘Countless lives are at stake  —no compromises on the vaccine.’

In his article he discusses the purported Russian vaccine, which Putin says has been administered to his own daughter, and the approach of US president Donald Trump.  

The much-trumpeted drug was registered after just 42 days of research, Fontanka news agency says – and its effectiveness is said to be ‘unknown’.

One of the documents submitted for registration says that ‘no clinical studies have been conducted to study the epidemiological effectiveness,’ despite Putin’s claims that the vaccine has passed ‘all the necessary tests’.

Thorp says: ‘The Russian vaccine remains shrouded in mystery — there is no published information about it, and what has been touted comes from the mouths of politicians.’

He adds that the race to the finish line for a vaccine is ‘dangerous thinking, driven by political goals and instant gratification’.  

Professor Thorp, who previously held top positions at Washington University in St Louis and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, addresses the debacle that is the US response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

‘In the United States, the pressure applied to government scientists by the administration on any aspect of the pandemic is becoming increasingly palpable, as they have been criticized or quieted in plain sight by the administration and Trump,’ he says. 

‘Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost leader on infectious diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, has been the most willing to state things clearly, but he has had to deal with muzzling and outright abuse from Trump and White House adviser Peter Navarro (not to mention shameful threats of violence against him and his family).’

While politicians in the US seem prepared to push ahead in pursuit of a vaccine with reckless abandon, the Science Editor-in-Chief congratulates US government scientists  for ‘holding strong’.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does have the ability to authorise emergency use of a developmental vaccine, as was done for anthrax when there was fear it could be used as a biological weapon. 

But he urges this not to be granted for Covid-19, and that any vaccine should instead go through the robust existing channels designed to protect public health in the long-term.  

‘The majority of epidemiologists worldwide who work on infectious diseases are firmly committed to randomized controlled trials (‘phase 3′) for all interventions, but especially for vaccines to be given to healthy people,’ he explains. 

‘This method allows comparison to a control group that receives a placebo. 

‘The phase 3 studies now underway on promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates involve approximately 30,000 patients. 

‘A randomized controlled trial is particularly important for determining the effectiveness of the vaccine, and the trial must continue until individuals in the control group become infected. 

‘It is impossible to predict how long that will take. Physicians who seek to advise healthy patients on taking the vaccine will rightfully require these data.’ 

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