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Science is No Tool for Politics

Insights into the complex world of vaccine development and the importance of patience in the pursuit of scientific progress.

Putin has gone on record to say that his close relatives, colleagues, and others have each gotten a dose of the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V. Named in commemoration of the country’s earlier win in a wholly different race, the vaccine was revealed to be successful on August 11. Nearly two months later, the pace of acceptance hasn’t exactly picked up in favour of it. Phase 3 trials are progressing in some parts of the world to thoroughly check the validity and efficiency of the vaccine. Vladimir Putin has even expressed his intent on getting himself inoculated perhaps in the hope of getting others to believe that this actually does help – follow-up on this news is nowhere to be seen. Knee-deep in the will to see the Russian way march ahead in the vaccine race, Moscow is playing by every narrative that it can get. But we needn’t be too prejudiced in this analysis either because the vaccine race is real and every other country is an equal partaker in it – much is at stake for the political leaders and a monumental feat achieved in the arena of medicine could very well be their ride to incumbency and support. However, this is science we’re talking about – you cannot toy around with it or change the gears to suit personal motives.

Rushing the development, at times, even choosing to opt out of a particular phase of trials to expedite the process, can be more harmful than the virus itself proves to be now. Even if trials end, there is a mandatory follow-up period that needs to be adhered to if a complete analysis of the vaccine profile is to be possible – the US Food and Drug Administration has stated this with clarity. This comes at a time when Donald Trump has been pushing for a vaccine roll-out before the election in November. A big blow to this political campaign, the FDA’s press release is a reminder to the general public and serves as a stimulus for people’s confidence to build back up – the unwarranted haste with which trials have been pursued and speeches have been delivered was definitely alarming. In fact, when Kamala Harris casually remarked that she wouldn’t take a vaccine if it was to be endorsed by Donald Trump, there was a speck of truth in the hesitation – especially in that it reflects a lot of what others are feeling too.

A few days ago, we saw the Nobel Prize for Physiology being announced for three brilliant scientists, Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton, and Charles M. Rice for their contribution to the detection of the Hepatitis C virus. If we take a look at the timespan across which all three made their significant studies and the entire picture concerning the virus became clear, we can note that it required nearly two decades – it started in the 1970s and culminated only in the 1990s. That it’s been acknowledged and awarded a Nobel Prize in 2020, decades after the actual discovery, is nothing strange. It takes time – it’s as simple as that. Science is complex, and the implications of research in biological science directly draw a connection to each one of us. Accuracy is of prime importance here and no rushed process can bring this along. The same applies to the vaccine race too. As Dr Boula of Pfizer has stated, “the world will be safer if we stop talking about the vaccines’ delivery in political terms”. He also talked about the “compounded tragedy if we have a safe and effective vaccine that many people didn’t trust”.

It’s definitely a good sign that vaccines like that of the AstraZeneca-Oxford collaboration have been put to short pauses in the course of the trials owing to complications – it shows one that the track ahead is sound for at least this candidate. There needs to be consistent transparency, however, in this matter with details regarding evidence and side-effects being released during frequent intervals. Regaining the confidence of the public is necessary and without this transparency, that seems like an extremely tough tread. Compartmentalized targets or deadlines too need to be kept as far away as possible when talking about potential candidates. It will come when the time is right and when all the due processes demanded of a vaccine candidate is fully checked off the list. Let’s not make any more haste about science. Its clock should be left to tick at its own pace.

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