As it is still 2020, and the COVID-19 Pandemic is still raging as I type this I wanted to write an article, there is much talk about looking for a vaccine. Let me put my click-baity title to rest right off the bat. I think that we should develop a vaccine, and that I, personally, should take it and so should you… eventually. See that isn’t quite as eye catching.
Here’s the thing. A corona virus vaccine is going to be the biggest, most important scientific breakthrough in the last 20 years, bar none. Yes, I am including things like detecting gravitational waves, finding the Higg’s Boson, even finding microbial life on Venus will ultimately pale in comparison. Those scientific breakthroughs are/would be so important. But they will have little to no impact on human life, at least like this vaccine will.
A drug company announcing that they have a safe, effective vaccine against this corona virus would be an amazing breakthrough. It would really be an extraordinary claim. That is why you should wait to get the vaccine. There is a lot of money to be made from a safe, effective vaccine. There in lies the problem, economics.
Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence
To be clear, we need a vaccine. I look forward to when we do have a vaccine! I want to take the vaccine!
That being said, if a drug company made the announcement that they had passed through their clinical trials unscathed and were ready to start mass production of their vaccine, I would have concerns. Scientific concerns. We have never, ever, not once created a safe, effective vaccine this quickly. It truly would be a modern marvel that we did.
So my first demand would be for the research paper that the scientists working on the vaccine produced from their clinical trial experiments. That would need to be published reputably (peer-reviewed), and openly, so that anyone in the public could scrutinize it for flaws. Obviously, it will take someone with a certain level of training to be able to understand it, but the important thing is that anyone in the entire world can examine it.
This is important, because we (the public) need to have confidence that the science is sound. This can’t be vetted by just a small handful of scientists. We all have the right to know what it is that we are injecting into our bodies, and the risks that it poses. This paper needs to be subjected/scrutinized by everyone and anyone that wants to, we can worry about the weight that we give to the criticisms from various people later. The important thing is that the public has access to this information.
Once that is taken care of my immediate questions, as a data professional, will be what was considered in terms of safety and efficacy. Did the paper break that down by sub-populations. Does the vaccine react differently to children than adults, men vs. women, different ethnicities? What methods to analyze the data did they use? For example, did they bootstrap their standard errors, or did they assume a normal distribution? Did they use regressions, or independent sample t-tests. What confounding variables did they control for?
We need to be able to see the answers to these questions because this is statistics with high-stakes and we can’t afford to make mistakes. What happens if it causes respiratory problems for people of African descent under the age of 5? Did their methods look for those sorts of things? We need to know that, but an average will cover up a whole host of sins of omission.
So after we get a look at this paper, the next most important thing is that the data is published openly as well. I for one want to start slicing and dicing and analyzing their data. I want to satisfy myself that the data is telling me what they claim that it is telling me. And if you are reading my blog, then you probably do to.
The thing is that like Carl Sagan said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.
Why you will wait for a vaccine.
In all honesty, the economic realities of mass producing a vaccine are such that we will all hear that there is a vaccine long before we get to take it.
We can’t just flip a switch and have 300 million doses of the vaccine available for public consumption. There will be some lag. We will probably have an announcement about a vaccine that is safe and effective by the end of the year. However, it probably won’t be widely available until sometime between March to July of 2021. That is just a reality. We will all be forced to wait, let’s use that time to be productive.
I will wait longer than most, unless the research and data on the vaccine are also widely available long before then. Because I have been in the data game long enough to know that ugly data monsters can be hiding in a spreadsheet of numbers. So I want to go through the data and make sure that there isn’t anything hiding in there that would affect me or my family.
I need to have my scientific/statistical questions answered before I take a dose of corona virus vaccine, and so should you!