GFWC Position Statement: COVID-19 Vaccine
GFWC has a long history of supporting vaccines and currently engages with several Affiliate Organizations, including Shot@Life, March of Dimes, and UNICEF, to promote, provide, and advocate for vaccines in the United States and around the globe. We recognize that COVID-19 represents a public health crisis impacting the physical, emotional, and financial well-being of GFWC members and local, national, and global communities. GFWC further recognizes that the COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for use in the U.S. represent a safe and effective method of addressing this crisis. Accordingly, GFWC encourages its members to get a COVID-19 vaccine and to work with our Affiliate Organizations and with entities in their local communities to promote and advocate for the vaccine.
In taking this position, GFWC recognizes that many people have expressed concerns about the speed at which the vaccines were developed and approved. There are a number of reasons that explain the speed of these processes, and none of those reasons adversely affect the safety of the vaccine. These reasons include:
The first step in developing a vaccine is understanding the structure of the virus and how it causes disease in the body. While this process usually takes several years, the family of viruses to which COVID-19 belongs was already the subject of potential vaccines. Additionally, new technology allowed scientists to determine the genetic makeup of this strain of coronavirus within a few weeks, as opposed to a few years.
Vaccines are expensive to create and, normally, each step of the testing process requires significant financial investment from pharmaceutical companies. The need for money, in turn, can often mean delays, as companies want to see overwhelming evidence that the vaccine will ultimately be effective before moving into the next step of testing. In the case of COVID-19, however, public and private entities united to fund the development efforts. Billions of dollars from the U.S. government and nonprofits allowed development to take place unimpeded by cost constraints.
To expedite the review of vaccine efficacy data, the FDA made a number of changes to its administrative rules. For example, it allowed companies to conduct all three phases of the COVID-19 vaccine trials simultaneously. When a safety concern arose at any stage of any of those trials, scientists halted the study to investigate further before continuing. Notably, on several occasions during the development process for the vaccines in question, clinical trials were paused so questions concerning safety could be addressed. Furthermore, the FDA still required substantial evidence that each vaccine was effective and had no harmful side effects before approving the vaccine for public use.
Potential Side Effects
There has also been significant discussion about the potential “long-term” side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines. The fact is, however, that not much is known about the potential long-term side effect of any vaccine before it is made available to the public. Even when all three phases of clinical trials are conducted consecutively, as opposed to concurrently, vaccines passing the clinical trials are generally made available to the public within three to 10 years of their development. Indeed, it took almost 30 years for scientists to learn that a potential long-term side effect of the chickenpox vaccine was that it could lead to shingles later in life. This side effect, however, is no different than one experienced by people who went unvaccinated and contracted chickenpox.
The GFWC Position Statement: COVID-19 Vaccine was developed in conjunction with the CDC and approved by the GFWC Executive Committee.