This is an idea regularly put forward by opponents of vaccination against Covid-19: laboratories would use us as guinea pigs to test their products, marketed even though phase 3 of clinical trials is still underway.
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For phase 3, it’s true: launched in July 2020 for Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, this final evaluation step is indeed far from over. It should therefore continue until autumn 2022 for the first and until spring 2023 for the second.
This is not, however, a blind experiment, underlines Doctor Jérôme Marty, president of the union of the French Union for Free Medicine (UFML). “As soon as a drug meets the necessary and sufficient conditions in terms of benefit-risk balance, it can be marketed, starting in phase 2,” explains this general practitioner. This is nothing unusual. “
Nor dangerous: “Some drugs are put on the market after being tested on 500 people. Vaccines against Covid were tested on 80,000 people before being marketed. “
RNA, a technique known for “ten years”
If this last phase could make it possible to discover possible undesirable effects, it mainly targets “To assess the duration of immunity conferred by vaccines, which is why it lasts so long”, explains the doctor. A long period of time which contrasts with the speed of the marketing of the first doses and their large-scale deployment. How could a product developed in one year be as safe as a product designed in ten years, can we legitimately wonder? Have we skipped steps?
“What you should know is that the messenger RNA technique has been developed for about ten years now, it is not something new, recalls the immunologist Morgane Bomsel, research director at the CNRS. If things went so quickly, it is not only because there was a global emergency, but also because we already had hindsight on the effectiveness of this technique and the fact that it does not provoke massive side effects. “
No zero risk
“This type of vaccine even almost saw the light of day at the time of SARS (in 2003), but the cases were not numerous enough to ensure profitability for the laboratories, and finally, the epidemic ended up extinguishing itself, says Jérôme Marty. It is therefore not surprising that the Covid crisis, with its 8 billion potential vaccine candidates, has given rise to such an acceleration. “
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But he insists: only the administrative steps have been burned. “That’s what saved us time. In France, the average time for a vaccine to reach the market is five years; in the United States, it takes two years ”, indicates the doctor, for whom the argument of anti-vaccines could also turn against them: “Some say that we want to poison them, that it is a plot to exterminate humanity. But how would they react if we told them that there is a vaccine that is 90% effective, but we do not give them? “
In terms of vaccines as drugs, however, zero risk does not exist. “There are always things that we discover a posteriori, even if they are very rarely dramatic things, recognizes Professor Vassili Soumelis, immunologist at the Saint-Louis Research Institute. Except that in this crisis, transparency and the speed at which information circulates are unprecedented. Nothing is hidden, we have seen it with AstraZeneca and the cases of thrombosis. Unfortunately, instead of inspiring confidence, it arouses mistrust. “
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