Public fears over fast-track vaccines

New survey from Liverpool law firm Hill Dickinson reveals public unease over the ‘fast-tracking’ of vaccines and other treatments for coronavirus. Tony McDonough reports 

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People are concerned about the fast-tracking of vaccines, the survey said


People in the UK are worried about the safety of ‘fast-tracking’ the development of potential vaccines and other treatments for coronavirus.

Usually the development of a vaccine can take several years but, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, regulators in the UK and in other countries are showing willingness to accelerate approval processes.

However, a new survey carried out by the life sciences practice of Liverpool law firm Hill Dickinson reveals an unease among the British public as to whether a fast-tracked coronavirus vaccine would be safe enough to use.

A group of scientists at Oxford’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group, backed by the UK Government to the tune of £65.5m, is currently conducting human trials on its vaccine and is 80% confident of having it ready to use by the autumn.

In the Hill Dickinson study, which surveyed 1,000 adults across the UK, two-thirds of respondents agreed that regulators should be able to relax requirements. However, more than three-quarters of those surveyed agreed that regulators should balance this with additional long-term monitoring.

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has also introduced fast-track approval routes for ventilators, PPE and COVID-19-testing kits, and has been expediting clinical trial applications for new treatments for COVID-19. 

While there is no reason to believe that accelerated procedures impose lower safety standards, the Hill Dickinson survey set out to examine UK public perception of risk in the regulatory process.

More specifically, it sought to establish whether respondents recognised that changes to regulations designed to protect them, made during an emergency disease outbreak, could have potential safety implications.

Half of all respondents agreed that new vaccines should be tested on people sooner than usual, even if side-effects are unknown, and 55% agreed that we have to accept that some patients may die due to side effects of COVID-19 treatments not identified due to an accelerated approval process. 

Interestingly, the proportion of respondents that see the increasing health risk as acceptable tends to increase with age with 48% of 18-24 year olds willing to risk the potential side effects for more rapid testing, compared with 50% of those aged 65-74 and 63% of those aged 75+.

James Lawford Davieslife sciences partner at Hill Dickinson, said: “The UK regulatory process has adapted very quickly in response to the pandemic, enabling rapid scientific advice, review and approval.  For example, the MHRA approved the Oxford vaccine trial in just over a week. 

“Prioritising COVID-19 assessments should not compromise the safety of trial participants or the thoroughness of the review, but it is interesting to see how the public perceive the balance of risk and benefit.”

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