A Coronavirus Vaccine Trial Was Paused Because of One Participant's 'Unexplained Illness'

Illustration for article titled A Coronavirus Vaccine Trial Was Paused Because of One Participant's 'Unexplained Illness'
Photo: Chandan Khanna (Getty Images)

A promising coronavirus vaccine trial has been put on pause after one participant developed an “unexplained illness.” According to Stat News, the sick person was a participant in Johnson & Johnson’s phase-3 study, which is one of four vaccine studies in this advanced stage.


It’s not uncommon for a study in this phase, with this many participants—Johnson & Johnson had enrolled 60,000 people in the trial—to be temporarily halted. “If we do a study of 60,000 people, that is a small village,” a source familiar with the vaccine study told Stat. “In a small village, there are a lot of medical events that happen.”

It also isn’t the first coronavirus vaccine study to be interrupted because of a sick participant: Last month, AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish pharmaceutical company, and Oxford University announced they had put their joint vaccine study on hold for a second time after a participant became ill, calling it a “routine” pause.

But vaccine trials are under intense scrutiny, both from the public (we would all really love to kiss our friends’ faces again!) and from Trump, who has made unrealistic promises that a vaccine will be ready “either before or just shortly after” Election Day. And even those of us who know Trump is full of it may be tempted at times to see the creation of a vaccine as a magic cure-all that will return our lives to normalcy overnight.

Unfortunately, it’s necessary to shatter those illusions. On Sunday, the New York Times provided us with a glimpse of just how messy things will get when vaccines do start to arrive:

The first vaccines may provide only moderate protection, low enough to make it prudent to keep wearing a mask. By next spring or summer, there may be several of these so-so vaccines, without a clear sense of how to choose from among them. Because of this array of options, makers of a superior vaccine in early stages of development may struggle to finish clinical testing. And some vaccines may be abruptly withdrawn from the market because they turn out not to be safe.

“It has not yet dawned on hardly anybody the amount of complexity and chaos and confusion that will happen in a few short months,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, the director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic.

This is to say that Johnson & Johnson’s small hitch shouldn’t be blown out of proportion, at least based on what we know now. The worst of the “complexity and chaos and confusion” around the coronavirus vaccine is still to come.

Night blogger at Jezebel with writing at The Baffler, The Nation, The New Republic, Vice, and more.



People talking about a vaccine like it’s the total solution make me crazy.

First, a vaccine will have to be produced in sufficient amounts.

Then people will have to get it.

Most vaccines have a period until they are effective as the immune response builds. Flu vaccine is a few weeks.

Then we have no idea how effective it will be. The flu vaccine is only 30-60% effective depending on the year.

It’s effectiveness will determine how many people need to get it to slow (not even halt) community spread. Getting enough people vaccinated could be a challenge.

A good timeline for this happening is six months to a year, without the added complications of competing vaccines, potential side effects or doubt from vaccines rushed through trials, etc. We’ve done a shit job so far with public health messaging.

If you’re waiting for a vaccine for things to be more normal, think more like 3-5 years post vaccine.

At this point I’ve basically written off going mask free in the 2020s unless our government gets off its ass and locks us down again and gets testing where it needs to be.