'Myths and Miracles' of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Vaccine Development

Peter Russell

January 11, 2021

A plenary session on COVID-19 vaccines by Dr Greg Poland, Mary Lowell Leary emeritus professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in the US, was held on day 2 of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP)'s virtual 2021 conference.

Dr Greg Poland/RCP

Entitled 'myths, mysteries, misinformation, myopia, and miracles', Dr Poland started an overview of COVID-19 vaccines with the '5 Ms'. These he listed as:

  • Myths, such as COVID-19 being a mild disease 'like the flu' that would disappear, and 'only harms older people'

  • Mysteries include the adaptation of SARS-CoV-2 to human infection and transmission

  • Misinformation such as the ideas that masks do not work, that the vaccine is about government control or contains a microchip, or that messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines permanently alter the host genome

  • Myopia over the way that the virus has not been contained and the lack of a global science-based pandemic response

  • Miracles that have led to international scientific collaboration, sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and the development of safe and effective vaccines within 12 months

Dr Poland expressed the view that "because of human decision-making and behavioural issues", the pandemic was no longer controllable by contact tracing and isolation but required "a hard lockdown – or circuit breaker approach – with mandatory masking and distancing - this has proved impossible in the US".

Vaccine Development

Dr Poland, who is editor-in-chief of the journal Vaccine, went on to explain the attributes of the leading vaccines coming on stream. This included an overview of how each type of vaccine provokes an immune response, including their pros and cons.

In summary, he commended vaccine developers for producing vaccines with "extraordinary efficacy". Although "there's no clear winner yet, they're all winners in my mind", he said.

According to Dr Poland, the world would need "four or five, maybe even six, different vaccines" to be available to supress the pandemic. Scientists were preparing for the idea that people would need periodic booster doses. "Some companies are already looking at a combination influenza/coronavirus vaccine, which would be interesting," he said.

Dr Poland concluded that it was vital for pandemic research funding to continue long beyond the attention span of governments and the media.

He quoted playwright George Bernard Shaw who said: "We learn from history that men never learn anything from history."

Dr Poland declared that he offered consultative advice on COVID-19 vaccine development to all developers.