Covid - 19 Vaccines: Safety, Side Effects, Costs
As the world is in the midst of a pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners are working together on response. They are racing to find a vaccine.
There is a robust pipeline of potential vaccines in development, and some have already advanced to large (phase III) clinical trials based on promising early data. There are several companies whose scientists are working tirelessly to discover a vaccine safe for human use. The question arises how the public would know about the safety of a particular vaccine and its side effects, if there is any. It is here where the World Health Organization (WHO) steps in to play an important role.
There are many strict protections in place that ensures a vaccine will be safe. Like all vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines would go through a rigorous, multi-stage testing process, including large (phase III) trials that involve tens of thousands of people. These trials, which include people at high risk for COVID-19, are specifically designed to identify any common side effects or other safety concerns.
If a clinical trial shows that a COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, a series of independent reviews of the efficacy and safety evidence is required, including regulatory review and approval in the country where the vaccine is manufactured, before WHO considers a vaccine product for prequalification. Part of this process also involves a review of all the safety evidence by the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety.
Following this, an external panel of experts convened by WHO analyzes the results from clinical trials and along with evidence on the disease, age groups affected risk factors for disease, and other information. They then recommend whether and how the vaccines should be used. Officials in individual countries decide whether to approve the vaccines for national use. These officials develop and set policies for how to use the vaccines in their country based on the WHO recommendations.
After a vaccine is introduced, WHO supports work with vaccine manufacturers, health officials in each country, and other partners to monitor for any safety concerns on an ongoing basis.
But even with the fast-pace work taking place in the development of a Covid-19 vaccine, we cannot be certain if and when a vaccine would be available. The safety of the vaccine depends on how quickly people get vaccinated. Most Covid-19 vaccine being tested now is using two dose regimens.
As for the cost of the vaccines, how much it costs to make drugs and vaccines is a closely guarded secret in the world of medicine. If Novavax’s immunization is successful, South Africa will receive priority access to vaccines at about $3 a dose. Moderna’s vaccine at £38 to £45 for a course of two shots is more expensive than the other frontrunners. AstraZeneca and Oxford University are aiming to sell their vaccine at about £3 a dose, while vaccines in trial with Johnson and Johnson and collaboration between Sanofi and GSK are both expected to cost about £8 per dose. Pfizer is charging the US about £30 for a two-shot course.
Talking about the side effects of the Covid-19 vaccines, like most good things in life, where there is benefit, risks must be considered as well. It is important to understand the side effects and communicate them to people ahead of time. The side effect profiles so far seem nothing to be concerned about. If the efficacy is high, most people will consider that a reasonable trade-off.
If people know what to expect, they’ll be less likely to worry -- or flood hotlines.