AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, calls on the global public health community and governments to exercise caution and due diligence in fast-tracking vaccine candidates for prevention of COVID-19.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, COVID-19 has infected 25 million people and claimed 847,400 lives. The devastating effects of the pandemic on all aspects of human activity cannot be understated. The impact of the virus on public health, the global economy, politics and civic institutions will likely be felt for generations. Amid this crisis, the possibility of an effective vaccine for COVID-19 holds a hopeful promise for a gradual end to the pandemic.

But in a race to create a vaccine, some countries, such as China and Russia, have accelerated the development process by forgoing lengthy late-stage vaccine clinical trials. In a public health emergency, this may seem like a necessary move, but it comes with serious risks.

"The urge to fight for the living compelled advocates to demand accelerated clinical trials and fast-tracking of treatment in the early days of the AIDS epidemic," said AHF President Michael Weinstein. "Many useful and applicable parallels have been drawn between the global AIDS response and strategies for getting COVID-19 under control. However, in the case of the rush to fast-track a vaccine, the situation is different. When we were fighting for early antiretroviral therapy [ART], people were dropping dead like flies — it was vital to get urgent treatment to try to stop countless deaths. With COVID-19, the situation is dire, but the death rate is substantially lower than in the pre-ART days of AIDS — and a fast-tracked vaccine would be for prevention, not life-saving treatment. The need to bypass standard safety procedures is just not here to warrant people’s health being put at risk with a rushed vaccine."