[Ask Dr Chiu] Who is the lab rat for the new COVID-19 vaccine?

[Ask Dr Chiu] Who is the lab rat for the new COVID-19 vaccine?

[Ask Dr Chiu] Who is the lab rat for the new COVID-19 vaccine?

HEALTH

2021-01-04

5  Mins Read

With the development of the new COVID-19 vaccine, governments all over the world are starting to develop immunisation program. With this comes a new problem: For those who were not selected to be the first for vaccination, they questioned the priority; for those that were selected to be the first to receive the vaccine, they wonder if they were being used as lab rat.

Since the production of vaccine in the initial phase is limited, it is quite reasonable to establish some order of priority. In general, the first to receive the vaccine should be those that are most at risk of being infected. In most places including Hong Kong, it will be elderlies, patients with chronic illnesses and healthcare workers that are the first to be offer vaccination.

As for the groups that followed, each community will have their own consideration. In Texas of the United States for instance, the workers at frozen meat plants were offered the second priority. This is because frozen meat export is a major economic activity of the state, and their government hopes that vaccination can reduce the risk of these factories being closed.

Who then is the real lab rat

Many describe the first people to receive vaccine as the “lab rat”. The true “lab rat”, in fact should be the 40,000 volunteers who participated in the research study for the development of the vaccine.

These volunteers were divided into 2 groups. The first group received 2 doses of vaccines 2 weeks apart, while the contrast group received only saline. These volunteers took part in one of the biggest and highest standard double blind randomised controlled trial in modern medical history, and their outcome formed the basis of efficacy and safety of the vaccine.

The results was published in New England journal Medicine, one of the most renowned journals in medicine. The result clearly demonstrated that the vaccine did not have serious side effects, and there was no death associated with the use of the vaccine. The common side effects are mostly mild and short-lasting. These included fever (16%), fatigue (59%), headache (52%), muscle pain (37%) and joint pain (22%).  To these “lab rats”, we should offer our utmost respect, as they have contributed significantly to the welfare of mankind.

After a vaccine is launched, pharmaceutical companies and researchers will continue to collect data regarding the use of the drug. It must be emphasised that are not experimenting with the people receiving the vaccine, but to understand the difference in response of the drug in groups of different age, ethnicities, and physical attributes. The data collected will help researchers to better understand and fine tune the dosage and timing of the vaccine.

It is true that for those who receive the vaccine later, they will benefit from such additional information, especially with respect to rare complications. On the other hand though, they also run the risk of a longer period of time without vaccine protection. Furthermore, nobody knows as to after how many people taken the vaccine could the vaccine be regarded as safe. Should it be one million, five million or 10 million? One should therefore carefully examine the risk but not over exaggerating it, when an opportunity for vaccination arise.