I-TEAM: Is it too soon for a COVID-19 vaccine? Experts say we should wait

Published: May. 11, 2020 at 4:27 PM EDT
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Monday, May 11, 2020

News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The race is on to get a vaccine for the coronavirus and to get it fast -- but quicker doesn't always mean better, according to a warning from an infectious disease expert at Augusta University Health.

"I don't think it's months. I don't think it's this year," Dr. Jose Vazquez of Augusta University said when asked about the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Still, the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine could be in the home stretch.

President Donald Trump calls the effort "Operation: Warp Speed." He has said he hopes to have a vaccine by the end of the year, but Dr. Vazquez warns that we need to wait.

"I think we'd be lucky if it was next summer," Vazquez said.

Dr. Vazquez says he'd like to review data over a period of time, even six months to preferably a year later, to see if the antibodies even last.

And then, there's the issue of safety. Vazquez himself says he'd even opt not to have it if it were available this year.

"No. No way. Oh, there's no way," Vazquez said. "I don't think they can convince me that it's safe enough to take. I'm telling you -- go back to the swine flu vaccine."​

The swine flu vaccination was developed in a hurry in the late '70s after top health experts compared it to the deadly Spanish Flu late in World War I.

President Gerald Ford announced a national swine flu immunization program in March 1976. He asked Congress for $135 million to "inoculate every man, woman, and child in the United States."

The program eventually ended after the CDC reported a possible link between the vaccine and Guillain-Barré syndrome -- a rare disorder causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. More than 25 people died from it.

And even though the COVID-19 vaccine is wanted, Vazquez says, it's better to wait.

"I don't want to accelerate this and make it a dangerous vaccine like we did with the swine flu vaccine, where we actually had deaths from the vaccine because we accelerated it," he said.

No matter when it comes, the FDA will have to sign off on it. In normal cases, that can take as long as a decade.

Meanwhile, there is still hope it doesn't get that far, or even maybe, we won't need one after all.

"Well, I feel about vaccines like I feel about tests. This is gonna go away without a vaccine. It's gonna go away, and it's, we're not gonna see it again, hopefully, after a period of time," President Trump said in a statement.

Dr. Vazquez says it won't be like the flu vaccine where researchers have to make an educated guess at what the prevalent strains will be. One vaccine will cover it and we probably won't need to get it once a year - like we do for the flu.

Copyright 2020 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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