Self-congratulations aside, it has been slow news week as I'm sure you've noticed. An interesting thing I came across earlier in the week is an article on the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE's) website and daily email that said the Moderna vaccine was actually developed last January. It could theoretically have been allowed to enter testing last January and might have been available months earlier than when it entered use a couple of weeks ago. All except for one big thing: the Food and Drug Administration.
The vaccine, a triumph of medical science known as mRNA-1273, was designed in a single weekend, just two days after Chinese researchers published the virus's genetic code on January 11, 2020.Why? The FDA prohibited rapid "challenge trials"—where volunteers take the vaccine and then expose themselves to the virus in a lab, rather than waiting agonizing months to see how many catch the virus "in the wild." The challenge trials could have proved the effectiveness of the vaccine in weeks or a month or two. The FDA considered the risk to the volunteers to be too high.
For the entire duration of the pandemic, while hundreds of thousands died and the world economy was decimated by lockdowns, this highly effective vaccine has been available.
The easiest word for a bureaucrat to say is "No" and that's what the FDA did here. Now, I can understand the FDA's desire to make sure the volunteers don't get killed by the virus, but following blanket policies that apply at all times and in all circumstances doesn't make allowances for unusual circumstances. As the author at FEE points out, somewhere close to the first 200,000 people to die of Covid-19 in the US died after this vaccine could have been available. During a raging pandemic, might the balance of risk that's allowed be a little different? After all, the potential deaths of volunteers is not the only cost. The monster cost is the death toll on the world's population from the virus. The Godzilla: King of the Monsters cost is the suffering caused by lockdowns, especially the economic suffering.
There can be no other conclusion than the acronym CYA - Cover Your Ass. The FDA was covering their collective asses rather than trying to help the population. It's a tragic truth that they're a cowardly medical bureaucracy that would rather allow hundreds of thousands of people to die than face any potential criticism for allowing an accelerated vaccine trial. CYA, unlike "no", is not a word that bureaucrats say. It's just how they live their lives.
The author at FEE suggests that based on what we know about how quickly the vaccines are produced and how quickly they could have been tested, that the Moderna vaccine could have been available last March or April. Instead of the first wave of COVID deaths and lockdowns in the United States, we could have seen a wide vaccine rollout, leading to rapid herd immunity, and the pandemic being curtailed before it really got started.
The Moderna vaccine being administered. Photo from FEE.
The answer is more freedom and less Tyranny of Experts.