A recent article in Forbes represents the nightmare of the conspiracy theorists. It begins by citing Alan Dershowitz,
Harvard Law School emeritus professor Alan Dershowitz claimed in an interview that the government has a constitutional right under the 10th Amendment to forcibly vaccinate a citizen to curb the spread of a contagious disease.
This begs the question, why would they need to force people if the vaccine were safe? We might also ask why anyone would continue to listen to Dershowitz after he has been closer than a lawyer needs be to Jeffrey Epstein, and several of Epstein's child victims (now grown) have identified Dershowitz as sexual assailant.
The article concedes that the previous record time to develop a vaccine was 4 years, and that 12-15 years is more typical. Yet CDC is talking about releasing a COVID vaccine in a matter of months.
We might be tempted to think that really, really smart scientists with a really, really big budget could perform a heroic task in record time and rescue humanity from a pandemic. This is the wrong way to think about it.
Safety testing cannot be completed in less than 2 years because some vaccine side-effects take two years to appear. There is no way to know if a vaccine is safe with less than two years of testing.
COVID is a disease that kills fewer than 1 person in a thousand in the general population. You might say that the disease itself is 99.9% safe. Any vaccine has to be at least 99.9% safe, or else it certainly does more harm than good.
The only way we can know if a vaccine kills one person in a thousand is to give it to a thousand people. In fact, you have to give it to several thousand before you have a statistical confidence it is killing fewer than 1 in 1,000. And worse than this, you have to test it on old people, and many thousands of old people will be required. That is because the fatality burden of COVID is heavily concentrated on old people. Testing the vaccine just on young, healthy people would be an unfair test, because the disease kills so few of them.
To properly test the vaccine, you need to vaccinate several thousand elders, then follow them for several years to see if they die. But old people tend to die with or without vaccine. So you compare death rates in two groups, one has several thousand vaccinated people and another (comparable) group is unvaccinated (or given a placebo). Which group is dying at a higher rate? Generally, it takes several hundred deaths before you can have statistical confidence in an answer.
Is this approach picayune or overly cautious? No, it's not. The reason is the finding that sometimes people vaccinated for disease X are more likely to get disease Y.
In this TED talk, Dr Christine Stabell Benn explains that the effect of a vaccine on the immune system can be to make it better able to defend narrowly against the targeted disease, but weaker in general. She distinguishes between live virus vaccines and virus fragment vaccines. Some vaccines contain live viruses that have been weakened so they cannot generally cause illness, and these vaccines tend to train the immune system generally, protecting against disease X and many other diseases. Other vaccines are made from a piece of protein or (DNA or RNA) that is characteristic of a virus X, and these may protect well against X but weaken the immune system overall, so that the vaccinated person is more likely to come down with other diseases. The effect is explained in detail in this 2018 research review.
Here is a list of 8 coronavirus vaccines in development. Five are the second type, not based on attenuated live viruses, and two are live viruses, and one is a dead virus. The problem is that the ones without live virus are faster to develop, cheaper to manufacture, and less likely to cause disease in the short time span when tests are conducted. But in the long run, they are the ones likely to weaken our immune systems.
Bottom line: this is a complicated situation, and the first time that anyone has ever talked about forcible vaccinations. Is there any reason to think COVID should be an exception to the practices by which vaccines were developed, tested, and deployed in the past? In the best case, the vaccine might save one life in a thousand, and the protective effect for young, healthy people is much less than that. If we rush a vaccine through human trials and coerce people to take it, there is a danger the vaccine might kill more people than it saves.