The first COVID-19 vaccine might not be the most effective: Professor of Epidemiology

Dr. Cindy Prins, University of Florida Associate Professor of Epidemiology joins Yahoo Finance’s On The Move panel to break down the latest developments on a potential coronavirus vaccine.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: Want to talk about this report in "The Lancet" regarding the pursuit of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19, and it regards the Russian vaccine. To help us understand all of these issues and some of the breaking news, we invite into the steam Dr. Cindy Prins, University of Florida Associate Professor of Epidemiology. Also, Anjalee Khemlani is joining us. She is the reporter who covers coronavirus and health issues here at Yahoo Finance. Let's start with that "Lancet" report. Dr. Prins, it's basically saying the Russian vaccine showed no ill side effects in 76 people. What does that really mean? Should we discard this information? Should we trust it?

DR CINDY PRINS: Well, I think you have to be really cautious about information like that. You know, 76 people is not a large amount of people to really be able to assess properly whether they are going to be side effects when a vaccine gets rolled out in a larger population. So I would definitely look at that with a lot of caution.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Doctor, I just want to detour over here and just say go Gators as a Gator alum here. But more seriously, in looking at these results though, it seems like they kind of mirror the preclinical results of AstraZeneca is what I've been hearing in terms of the antibody response and the level of response, and that the expectation is largely that vaccines like the Russian one are going to be less effective than some that come later, and they're expected to not really prevent transmission as much. So with that in mind, do we have, you know, sort of any understanding on if the Russian vaccine is actually on par and could meet minimum FDA criteria?

DR CINDY PRINS: That one, I don't know yet. I think that it's a little too soon to tell. There are a lot of different types of vaccines that are being worked on right now, and certainly, what we're seeing early on may not wind up being the most effective vaccines that come later on down the line. And so, again, I think we're going to see some things early and some things that may show some efficacy and that can be, you know, potentially authorized for use. And then later on, we may see trials that are more effective, vaccines that are more effective, and those may be what ends up being more widely rolled out.

DAN ROBERTS: Dr. Prins, Dan Roberts here. If I can just zoom out and ask you a logistics question. When we talk about a vaccine, everyone is acting as though, well, once we have a vaccine, that's it. Great. It's safe to come out, and it's all over. But I mean, how would it really get to everyone on a mass scale quickly?

You know, when we talk about getting a flu shot, I mean, A, it's sort of optional, and a lot of people just don't do it. Obviously, this would be very different. But it seems to me, a lot of people are underestimating the simplicity of getting it to a large number of people right away even once there is a vaccine.

DR CINDY PRINS: Absolutely, I mean, if you think about the US population alone, we're talking about over 300 million people. And, you know, obviously not everyone is going to opt to be vaccinated, but we need a large proportion of the population to get vaccinated. Each of these vaccines is going to have different requirements as well, so there are different storage requirements.

If you're looking at the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines right now that, you know, they're proposing may be ready this fall, one of them needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, one at minus 20. So those are, you know, specific storage requirements, and not everyone may have the ability to do that, especially minus 70. And then beyond that, yeah, just the logistics of, you know, how you roll this out.

How do you track that everyone is getting not just the first dose, but you need a second dose, a lot of these vaccines, for people. And so, you know, we really are going to have to think about how this will get distributed. And, you know, some of those plans are being put in place now, but it's going to be logistically challenging.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: On the logistics, one of the key things I think is that the focus is largely on the US when it comes to these vaccines that are being developed here. But meanwhile, the Russian vaccine is freeze dried, or can be freeze dried, and so that sort of removes that need to freeze it and the extra requirements there for freezers and et cetera. How does that play out? While we've seen the US thwart away efforts to join the World Health Organization and their vaccine race, could we see others like Russia, China, et cetera sort of dominate the global market while we're focused here?

DR CINDY PRINS: Absolutely, because what people need to understand is that in certain areas of the world, you still are not going to be able to distribute a vaccine that has refrigeration requirements, because of the time it takes to get to some people, the time that it would take that, you know, the vaccine would be potentially outside of its required storage. You really do need some of these options like the freeze dried vaccines, vaccines that are going to be stable at room temperature or even can travel in areas where they may be exposed to heat and then can be reconstituted and then given to people. So that's really critical. A lot of our world lives in areas where it's not going to be easy to get sort of a vaccine that has severe refrigeration requirements to them.

- Doctor, I wonder what you make of the dual messaging that's coming from the scientific community and the political side of things. Particularly as it relates to the timeline of a vaccine in the US. Yesterday, we heard from the Chief Scientific Advisor of the Operation Warp Speed saying essentially, that deadline that's been floated by the White House of an October vaccine is very, very unlikely, in his words. So I'm curious what you see as the timeline right now, and, you know, more importantly, we've seen the market move in so many directions on these headlines. How are those of us who are not privy to the science, how should we be reading the headlines?

DR CINDY PRINS: Sure. I mean, I think that there has to be an understanding that these clinical trials take time, and these companies that the US is saying, you know, might have vaccines ready by fall, by October, by November, they're in phase three, but, you know, they haven't completed that process yet. And so this is potentially an ideal timeline if everything were to go perfectly for them. I think that, you know, maybe there's a potential for emergency use authorization for the vaccines, but in reality, this would be, even if that happened, a very low number of doses. It wouldn't be something that would be widespread for the population.

And so, you know, for vaccines as a whole, we're really looking at roll outs I think more into the springtime. And, of course, then adding on the logistics of that distribution, that's going to take time as well. And so when people are reading this, I think you have to understand that, you know, everyone wants there to be a vaccine, everyone wants this to go away, but in reality, science takes time, and, you know, it can't be rushed either. It's important that this is done correctly.

ADAM SHAPIRO: OK, Dr. Cindy Prins is a University of Florida Associate Professor of Epidemiology. Good to have you here On the Move.

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