Johnson & Johnson's corporate office is located in Irvine, Calif., October 14, 2020.

Johnson & Johnson’s corporate office is located in Irvine, Calif., October 14, 2020.


Mike Break / Reuters

There have been some recent obstacles in the competition to develop vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.

Johnson & Johnson announced on Monday that it has canceled a large-scale trial of COVID-19 vaccine candidates. A US trial of a vaccine under development by AstraZeneca is still pending after the trial was suspended last month.

Vaccine developers say these temporary suspensions indicate that the trials are being conducted properly and that such a timeline is regional. People skeptical of vaccines may see it differently.

To learn more about the implications of all these pauses, world host Marco Warman spoke with Polly Roy, professor and dean of the Department of Virology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Marco Werman: Take a look at this week’s announcement from Johnson & Johnson about vaccine trials. Are you reading what happened there?

Polly Roy: Vaccine candidates in large trials will see some people react. This should actually be normal and indicate that the vaccine is working.And it’s good that they are trying to find out exactly why during the pause [for the apparent illness].. And that could be for some reason. Therefore, it is not necessarily the direct fault of the vaccine itself.

How about AstraZeneca?

It’s exactly the same problem, as they also performed large-scale tests that were very careful, step-by-step, and very transparent. And exactly the same thing happened. So I don’t think that’s the real problem.

So there is still a lot of skepticism about vaccines. How do you overcome all these problems when they occur along the way? Do you say this is perfectly normal?

It’s perfectly normal. If you don’t have hiccups, that means your vaccine may not be that good — it’s not really working. It reacts differently from person to person. The majority of people have no reaction.

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As a scientist, what does Professor Roy want the public to understand better about these vaccine trials?

For example, you need to convince them how to vaccinate a place suitable for smallpox and yellow fever. Of course, there was a problem with persuasiveness at the beginning. But they need to understand these basic issues. Vaccines are the key to stopping infectious diseases. This is definitely the time when it can be a safe vaccine, as science is so advanced. And that is an important message that everyone should understand. We are transferring knowledge to everyone in order to understand what is happening and to properly educate people about why they are vaccinated.

What does it come with?

People will understand if they can explain the risks of each vaccine. Not everyone needs to be a scientist, but scientists understand to others how each vaccine works, whether it is harmful to the body, and whether it has future effects. I need to let you. However, the main goal is that all these vaccines try to make strong antibodies without too many side effects. That’s the idea, but you can deal with this kind of thing. You need to test with a lot of people.

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It seems that there are many vaccine candidates around the world. Which of them is the most promising?

What if I say which one is my favorite? I also make vaccines, so I don’t want to hurry and do anything. So I stay in the background.

Are you also working on vaccines?

of course. I’m not telling anyone that I’m making a vaccine. I’m a scientist, so I’m doing it because of my interests.

As for the vaccine timeline, do you think the leading candidates will probably be released and adjusted along the way? Will it probably lead to a better vaccine or perhaps a booster?

Yes, that’s true for most vaccines. Think about the polio vaccine.Is the same [to the goal].. Because you start with the best available at the time. And as they learn every day, you will improve with different designs. When they do all these tests, they know what the side effects are and what to avoid.

This interview has been lightly edited and summarized for clarity.