COVID-19 research process at warp speed

While many questions remain up in the air about the coronavirus, researchers are rushing to get a vaccine out into the public.

But before that can happen, scientists must ensure that research reflects the highest amount of accuracy and quality before it is published.

Dr. Rita Redberg, a UCSF cardiologist and editor of the American Medical Association Journal JAMA Internal Medicine, said she is concerned that if research is finalized two quickly, it could pose a huge threat to millions of people if errors were overlooked or unresolved. She said that if a vaccine is released before it is for sure ready, it would lead people to think that they are protected when they are not.

"It’s hard to rush high-quality science," Dr. Redberg said. "While I and everyone are really keen to get treatments and get vaccines, what we don’t want to do is put out ones that don’t work or could be dangerous."

Dr. Redberg said that, as much as many people hate to hear it, it takes a great amount of time to determine which vaccines and treatments are the safest and most effective.

"It is a great concern that there is this incredible time pressure, exacerbated by political pressure, to get things out before we can be assured of safety and effectiveness."

Dr. Redberg added that the upcoming presidential election has surely put pressure on scientists, as the Trump Administration urges for a quick turnaround on a coronavirus vaccine. But the FDA and CDC warned that there had to be at least two months of data once a vaccine looked promising.

"I don’t think we can have arbitrary deadlines, we have to let science dictate the deadline," Redberg said.

But she said that the pace of coronavirus research is progressing in a positive and timely direction.

"There’s a lot more people, we have more advanced techniques; we have faster techniques; the trials that are going on for vaccines are enrolling a lot of people, which we really need," Dr. Redberg said. "So that’s all good."

Despite all that, she said what’s creating a complication in the process is "preprint server," or when an article or study is published before getting the sufficient amount of peer review, as people are anxious to get their ideas out in the world, hoping they will lead to the next successful treatment or cure.

"(Peer review) is an incredibly important process, because we can sift out what is true, what works, if there were errors," Dr. Redberg added.

Dr. Redberg said that, like many aspects of the medical world, the evolution of knowledge is constantly changing. With that, she continues to remain hopeful about what’s to come of the current research at hand.

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