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.
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 And some vaccines may be abruptly withdrawn from the market because they turn out not to be safe.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.