Deconstructing the news on COVID-19:

Because somebody should tell it to you straight

vol. 2 Special Edition

Although we are beyond the pre-clinical phase in the race for a coronavirus vaccine, testing on actual humans in the US has yet to begin, although recruitment has. Extremely optimistic estimates are that a vaccine will be available in one year. That’s not likely, however.

What about treatment?

What about preventing transmission?


When I was an infectious disease journal editor, I appreciated how virology is among the most straight forward of clinical specialties when it comes to treatment and prevention. Whereas we might argue over psychiatric diagnoses (which we will continue doing in the next issue), once a virus is identified and the process of finding a vaccine and treatment has been initiated, only the politicians with weirdo agendas that have nothing to do with protecting the populace seem to get confused.

For the rest of us, the process is pretty straight forward.

The clinical phase of testing a vaccine typically takes 18 months. That’s standard. Nine months? Fat chance. Two to 3 months? Never, not unless we just start experimenting on people without any regard for their safety.

But that is the clinical phase. There is an initial exploratory phase, and then a pre-clinical phase. Luckily, because of previous investigations into vaccines for Ebola and MERS, we are through the exploratory phase on at least two potential vaccines. There could be more, but in the mean time, recruitment for a Phase 1 trial is underway for at least one potential novel vaccine.

That is to say, actual testing has not yet begun.

At a minimum, it will take about a month to recruit and prepare the trial participants.

Ordinarily, the clinical phases where the vaccine is injected into people takes three separate trials of a few to several months a piece. That’s why on average, if you’re lucky, it’s an 18 month process to come up with a vaccine that you then have to create a manufacturing system for. If you want to learn more about the various phases, you can visit your taxpayer-funded CDC website, which to date anyway, still has actual science and not magical thinking posted on it.

But keep in mind, a Phase 1 trial might go really well, but a Phase 2 could end up a complete bust. That wouldn’t necessarily set us back to square one, since there are several companies investigating potential vaccines, and at least one of them is likely to work eventually, but it should illustrate for you that there is no way to say for certain how long it will be before we have a vaccine.

A cause for cautious optimism, however is that we might be much closer to treatment for the virus, due to there having been previous investigations into treatment for MERS. But that’s still not a given, making prevention of transmission the greatest defense we have right now.

If only our public health officials were free to make the hows and whys of this aspect of keeping us safe from harm crystal clear to you. Other news organizations are getting into the politics of all that, some better than others, but here’s a well-deconstructed news piece from the nonprofit news organization Pro Publica that explains what to listen for in the news to be sure you are actually getting the best information, and what to ask if you are interacting with people in the know like health officials.

I wish you health!