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How COVID-19 vaccine development differs from other past diseases

Posted at 1:46 PM, Oct 05, 2020

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - As coronavirus continues to rage across the country, scientists are inching closer to developing a COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Doug Mitchell used to be a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at CHKD and EVMS. He is currently the medical director of CHKD Medical Group and a pediatrician at Norfolk Pediatrics.

“If we’re able to stick to the science in developing the vaccine, then that would be comforting if we could stick to the science and develop an effective and safe vaccine,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell said the speed at which researchers are developing a vaccine to combat COVID-19 is nothing short of a miracle, but sticking to the clinical science behind the advancement is key for an effective and safe vaccine - and that takes time.

“The stated goal that I saw by the CDC and/or FDA of wanting a vaccine that shows at least 50% protection and six months of safety data, that takes time,” he said. “We need a chance to show the safety profile of any new vaccine under the parameters of following the best science that we could follow.”

Mitchell understands the process involved in developing a vaccine.

More than 20 years ago, he was an investigator in several pediatric clinical trials. Many of the vaccines that came out of his lab are still used in children today.

While there are still growing concerns about vaccines, the benefits outweigh the risks.

“The flu vaccine clearly saves lives, clearly prevents illnesses, but it’s not 100% protective either, but we know it does have benefits,” Mitchell said. “The advantage there is the flu vaccine has been out for decades and we know its safety profile.”

Similar to the rapid speed of developing a COVID-19 vaccine, Mitchell said a vaccine for H1N1, better known as the swine flu, was quickly put on the market.

The difference is, we already had decades of history of flu vaccines and their safety, so all that happened was developing the same flu vaccine that was protective against a different strain,” he said. “That’s a different ballgame than starting a vaccine against a totally different virus.”

While the research continues, the fight against COVID-19 is far from over.

According to Mitchell, the spread of the virus decreases when you reach heard immunity where enough of the population is immune.

This story was first reported by Antoinette DelBel at WTKR in Norfolk, Virginia.