19 May Have we found the magic bullet to cure COVID-19? Not so fast..
A lot of buzz and optimism was abounding yesterday after Moderna announced that its Phase I trial for a coronavirus vaccine showed promising early results. Moderna recruited 45 subjects for the trial, and thus far, 8 of the 45 have shown antibody response to the vaccine. Two questions came immediately to mind: 1. What about the response of the remaining 37 subjects and 2. Why hasn’t Fauci chimed in on this one?
I understand how important it is financially to a company to be the first off the starting block. If you have the magic bullet, your stock prices will soar. That is what happened yesterday with Moderna’s stock. It increased 20% after the announcement of its Phase I trials. The market’s reaction to Moderna’s news says less about the scientific significance of the announcement than about how much the world is grasping for one scintilla of positive news in the fight against COVID-19.
According to Moderna’s chief medical officer, Dr. Tal Zaks, “If future studies go well, the company’s vaccine could be available to the public as early as January.” Well, that’s just not true. In a statement published Monday by NIH Director, Francis S. Collins, he cautioned that some aspect of vaccine development can not be short-circuited, noting that “the earliest possible distribution [is] predicted to be 12 to 18 months away.”
And that is probably why Dr. Fauci hasn’t weighed in on this announcement.
It’s interesting to note that Moderna’s announcement came only days after former board member Moncef Slaoui was appointed to lead the White House’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine development initiative. Slaoui resigned from the board to take the unpaid government position. He still holds an estimated $10 million in Moderna stock options, provoking government watchdog groups to warn that he could be embroiled in a conflict of interest as long as he holds the options.
I am cautiously optimistic that this vaccine will work. But just because it’s stock prices are rising, there is no guarantee that Moderna has the magic bullet. And to think the vaccine will be ready for public distribution by January is unrealistic. I encourage everyone to read the science, and not the financial column, in evaluating the worth of a vaccine.