COVID-19: Vaccine Trial Paused: What Next?

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If you are waiting for “a vaccine” so you can go back to normal living, what does the pause in testing the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine mean to you?

If you own stock in AstraZeneca, the value of your shares dropped 8 percent on the news that one of the test subjects became paralyzed, while the shares of Pfizer and Moderna, which are testing different types of vaccines, rose a few points.

The paralysis is being attributed to transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord. About 1,400 new cases of transverse myelitis are diagnosed each year in the United States, 1.34 to 4.60 cases per million, or 24.6 cases per million if diseases like multiple sclerosis are included. It can follow a viral or bacterial infection.

The AstraZeneca vaccine uses an adenovirus.

Because of this one case, the clinical trial is being placed on hold out of “an abundance of caution,” while an investigation is conducted. The study participant is expected to recover.

All medical interventions, including vaccines, are associated with adverse events, which might have been caused by the intervention, or might have been a coincidence.

A single case (or several) might have no effect on usage of a vaccine. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, such as Merck’s Gardasil™, may still be mandated for school attendance despite the well-publicized, tragic case of Colton Berrett, who became paralyzed after his third shot. He did not recover, ended up wearing a jacket respirator (an iron-lung equivalent), and committed suicide. But something else might have caused his condition, and most vaccinated people do fine.

When a vaccine is given to millions, even billions of people, many of them will have adverse events that just happen to occur right afterward. It will likely be impossible to prove a causal connection. There will, however, be no billion-dollar verdicts like in Roundup™ cases because manufacturers are immune from liability.

The public policy question will be how to balance risk and benefit, and who will decide. Will people have to take a vaccine to be able to work, travel, or go to school—yet be forbidden to choose to take a prophylactic drug such as hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) instead?

Further information: Studies pertaining to safety and efficacy of HCQ for COVID-19 have been reviewed and conveniently tabulated. Vaccine studies are in progress.