Are vaccine trials safe? What are covid vaccine trial volunteers facing?

Tom Costello September 21, 2020
Are vaccine trials safe? What are covid vaccine trial volunteers facing?

Vaccines keep us safe from viruses and right now, of course, the most-sought-after vaccine in the world is one against the novel coronavirus. But are vaccine trials safe for volunteers? What are those enrolled in covid vaccine trials facing?

Althought the University of Oxford covid-19 vaccine has made impressive strides in a short space of time, it recently ran into a roadblock during clinical trials. Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted the vaccine trial was facing a “challenge” after one of its volunteers allegedly suffered a severe adverse reaction to the vaccine. The trial has been paused as a result.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

A safety data review by an independent committee will take place, although AstraZeneca, which is making the University of Oxford vaccine, insisted the pause was routine, while the company was “committed to the safety of our participants and the highest standards of conduct in our trials”.

How safe are vaccine trials?

The NHS provides information on its website about vaccine trials, how to participate and what to expect .

It states you may be one of the first people to benefit from a new vaccine if you take part in a clinical trial. However, it also warns there’s a chance a trial vaccine may be no better or worse than standard treatment.

The NHS also warns that in paid trials, unknown side effects may occur as a result.

That said, the NHS also makes clear safety is the central focus in vaccine trials and a vaccine will never pass on to the next stage of trialling if it isn’t deemed safe enough. At the start of a trial, patients are given smaller doses that are only increased if there are no side effects.

It is also common for some patients in vaccine trials to be given a placebo to test against effects of the real vaccine, with no risk involved.

The NHS states “As with any treatment, you cannot be sure of the outcome.”

The United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) also provides information on vaccine safety. The DHHS states: “Vaccines are safe and effective. Because vaccines are given to millions of healthy people – including children – they’re held to very high safety standards.”

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Monitoring vaccine safety

Even after a vaccine passes all stages of clinical trialling and is approved for public use, it is continuously monitored for quality and safety by reviewing three characteristics.

  • Potency (the vaccine works how it is supposed to)
  • Purity (certain ingredients used in manufacturing have been removed)
  • Sterile (it doesn’t harbour outside germs)

Ultimately, the safety of vaccine trials is unpredictable. Although there is rigorous testing to ensure quality and safety of vaccines, remember the NHS warns that “as with any treatment, you cannot be sure of the outcome” and there may be “unpredictable side effects”.

On the other hand, the trial might be successful and you may play a key role in finally finding a vaccine for coronavirus.

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