When will a COVID-19 vaccine be safe? Here's what we know

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- When it comes to getting a vaccine, a number of trials are farther along in the process, like AstraZeneca.

Dr. Jack Roth and Dr. Elizabeth Grimm are participating in the trial, receiving their first injection a week ago.

"So far, I would say it's been virtually painless," said Roth.

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Once patients like Roth and Grimm receive the vaccine, researchers follow up and gather data to see if the vaccine is working.

"Mild, very mild," said Grimm.

Once they have enough data, then they can move on to the next phase, which is getting it to the FDA.

"When the vaccines first come available, how will the FDA deal with them? Will they provide an Emergency Use Authorization, an EUA? They've used that designation for some forms of testing and other forms of treatment, or will they insist that it go through the full FDA approval process?" asked president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Hospital, Dr. David Callender.

The EUA could speed up the process, according to researchers.

"The FDA process is very involved, and it goes into great detail. It takes some time. If the preponderance of evidence says the vaccine is safe and effective, the FDA might be willing to take a look and say, 'You know, we think this is going to get through our process. It will take time, but we feel there's enough evidence that it's safe and effective to allow it to be used under certain conditions,'" said Callender.

He also said that if what companies are saying holds truth, we could see progress by the end of the year.

"By the end of this calendar year, we'll have enough evidence from the clinical trials to say, 'Yea, we think this is safe and effective. Submit it to the FDA and have them take a look at it, and if all goes well, we have something available in late winter, early spring,'" said Callender.

With that in mind, this is what a vaccine timeline could look like: by mid-December a vaccine could be approved. By early next year, a vaccine could be administered to nursing homes. Then by the spring, the vaccine could be administered to the general public.

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Callender said they will not back any vaccine that doesn't feel safe.

"We, as health care providers within, I think, the greater Houston community will not be comfortable promoting the use of a vaccine unless we're really confident that it will be safe and effective," said Callender.

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