What if the first COVID vaccines are rushed, not guaranteed to be safe, and limited in effectiveness?

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Credit: Hans Pennink/AP

[A] surprising number of research groups are placing bets on some [COVID-19 vaccines] that have not yet been given to a single person.

The New York Times has confirmed that at least 88 candidates are under active preclinical investigation in laboratories across the world, with 67 of them slated to begin clinical trials before the end of 2021.

Those trials may begin after millions of people have already received the first wave of vaccines. It will take months to see if any of them are safe and effective. Nevertheless, the scientists developing them say their designs may be able to prompt more powerful immune responses, or be much cheaper to produce, or both — making them the slow and steady winners of the race against the coronavirus.

“The first vaccines may not be the most effective,” said Ted Ross, the director of the Center for Vaccines and Immunology at the University of Georgia.

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Some of the most promising first-wave products, such as RNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, are based on designs that have never been put into large-scale production before. “The manufacturing math just doesn’t add up,” said Steffen Mueller, the chief scientific officer of Codagenix.

Many of the second-wave vaccines wouldn’t require a large scale-up of experimental manufacturing. Instead, they could piggyback on standard methods that have been used for years to make safe and effective vaccines.

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