The search for a coronavirus vaccine yielded promising results this week, but that must be seen for exactly what it is — a bit of news with potential but uncertain significance, the first step on what will be a long road to an effective vaccine.
It also must be seen for what it is not — a reason to turn complacent and relax the behavior that has served us well the past two months. Keeping our distance from one another, avoiding crowds, wearing masks and practicing good hygiene have helped turn the tide of the pandemic. The number of new infections in New York and some other places is going down. That trend must continue, vaccine or not. Forgetting to adhere to those practices because a vaccine is on the horizon would be shortsighted and unwise, and most likely would cause infections to spike again. No one wants a return to the recent past.
Similar caution should be exercised regarding President Donald Trump’s revelation that he’s been taking the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine as a preventive against COVID-19. He said he started nearly two weeks ago, after his personal White House valet tested positive. Since then, two more studies have been published casting doubt on the drug’s effectiveness against the coronavirus; one found that patients taking both hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin were more likely to suffer cardiac arrest. And the FDA has issued a safety warning about the drug’s potential to cause dangerous arrhythmia, saying it should not be used outside of a clinical trial or hospital that allows for careful heart monitoring.
In making clear he was going with his gut on taking the drug, Trump continued a troubling trend of defying expert medical opinion — like his resistance to wearing a mask, his suggestion of disinfectant injections (the source of the drinking Clorox jokes) as a cure, and his rejection of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reopening guidelines. It sets a terrible example for the public. His reckless question, “What do you have to lose?” has a disturbing answer: Plenty.
Certainly, the news from Moderna, a Massachusetts biotechnology company using a new technique of vaccine production, was encouraging. In a Phase One trial, eight participants who got the vaccine produced antibodies similar to or greater than antibodies produced by patients who recovered from COVID-19. But more tests for its safety and the efficacy of the antibodies must be done on far more people over two more phases before such a vaccine would be approved for use. Most likely, more than one vaccine will be needed to better protect different age groups or pregnant women. Then there is the enormous task of producing, distributing and administering the medication. The same is true of seven other potential vaccines undergoing human clinical trials in the United States, Britain and China.
Moderna’s very preliminary results are cause for optimism. In the meantime, stay the course. Our safety depends on our own actions, at least for now.
— The editorial board