Drug producers are working as quickly as possible to find a vaccine to fight the rapidly spreading coronavirus that has contracted over 100,000 people globally.
Behind the scenes, medical experts are concerned that rushing a vaccine may result in worsening the infection in some sufferers rather than stopping it.
Studies have recommended that coronavirus vaccines carry the risk of vaccine enhancement, where instead of protecting against an infection, the vaccine can make the illness worse when a vaccinated person is infected with the coronavirus.
The mechanism that inflicts that risk is not entirely understood and is one of the hindrances that has stopped the successful development of a coronavirus vaccine.
Usually, scientists would take several months to test for the possibility of vaccine enhancement in animals. Given the need to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, some drug producers are moving directly into small-scale human tests, without awaiting the completion of such animal tests.
Hotez worked on the development of a vaccine for SARS, the coronavirus behind a major 2003 epidemic, and found that some vaccinated animals developed a more severe illness compared with unvaccinated animals when they had been exposed to the pathogen.
Hotez testified last week before the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology in regards to the need for sustained funding for vaccine research.
At least for now, the world’s experts have admitted that accelerated testing is a risk worth taking.