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Blog - AdventHealth leader: Trust the science on vaccines

Nov 21, 2020

Blog - AdventHealth leader: Trust the science on vaccines

Written by Dr. Steven R. Smith

Dr. Steven R. Smith, Chief Scientific Officer, AdventHealth

This blog was first published as an opinion editorial on the Orlando Sentinel. 

As the number of COVID-19 cases climbs rapidly around the country, the hunt for a vaccine has never been more important. But the hunt for public trust in vaccines and the process to develop a vaccine is just as important.

As scientists, we find ourselves confronting two issues: a general mistrust of vaccines in some segments of the population, and a particular distrust of the current process around development of possible vaccines for COVID-19.

Misinformation around the safety and efficacy of vaccines has spread around the internet for years and is now recklessly amplified by social media. This is quantifiably harmful, as Americans needlessly contract, suffer from and spread diseases for lack of vaccination.

The truth is there’s no scientific data to support fears that commonly used vaccines are harmful. In fact, because of vaccines, once-common diseases like measles and polio have essentially been eliminated in the United States. We are fortunate not to have lived with those diseases that afflicted previous generations, thanks to the work of our scientific forebears.

In a way, that success has worked against us. Most people alive today have no recollection of a time when diseases like those were common. As a result, for some of us, lessons on the benefits and trustworthiness of vaccines have been lost.

A recent published review of vaccine safety presented compelling data that supports the safety of vaccines across the United States.

COVID-19 again presents an opportunity — and concerns — about vaccines, and the science behind them. At AdventHealth and many other institutions around the world, we are working hard on the search for therapeutics and vaccines.

As this work proceeds, polling data indicates many people think the process is being rushed. That’s perhaps understandable given our hyper-politicized times, but in my view it’s not the case. Over the last 25 years I’ve led and participated in hundreds of clinical studies. I currently serve as the Principal Investigator of our large COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial. My view from the inside allows me to firmly attest that no corners are being cut and extraordinary measures are in place to protect the safety of the participants and the integrity of the studies.

The companies and researchers developing these vaccines are aware of public concerns about the process, including perceptions that it’s rushed and lacking in transparency.

Recent pauses in some of those trials may have exacerbated this situation. But the fact is, the FDA and companies have put in place extraordinary measures, including lowering the threshold for pausing a vaccine trial. There’s every chance we will see more pauses as more information comes in.

And that’s a good thing — it shows that safety is being taken seriously, and the process is being allowed to proceed at an appropriate pace, not one that’s politically expedient.

The fact that we hear about pauses shows that there is transparency in the process. The FDA has stated openly that all of the vaccine trial data will be made available to the public before the initial emergency use authorization or full FDA approval.

I recently spoke with one of the scientists who makes recommendations to the CDC on vaccines. I trust that he and his colleagues are outstanding scientists who hold the public’s best interest to heart. I am convinced that they will not be influenced to make decisions based on other priorities.

Importantly, those deliberations will be held in the open so that their opinions and analysis of the data can be heard. We’ll be watching closely to make sure that this happens, and you should watch closely too.

Vaccines work, and they have for decades. I’m confident that eventually we’ll find a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19. When we do, I hope most people will feel safe taking it. If not, the fight against this disease will continue, with no end in sight.

Dr. Steven R. Smith is the chief scientific officer of AdventHealth.