February 22, 2021

UW Health experts share vaccine overview

Madison, Wis. — As the world continues to battle COVID-19, the status and eventual use of a vaccine are subjects of constant debate. On such an important topic, the public needs credible and useful information. Today, UW Health officials are addressing how vaccines are tested and why they work.

How does a vaccine get developed and approved? For a vaccine to be approved and recommended to the public by medical professionals, it needs to pass numerous tests. Even with the urgency surrounding COVID-19 vaccines, those protocols are still being followed to ensure any eventual vaccine is safe and effective. Many care treatments, including vaccines, go through clinical trials. Clinical trials take place in three phases.

  • Phase 1 is a human trial that tests a vaccine for any major side effects.

  • Phase 2 is another human trial that tests a wider population to better understand its dosage and effectiveness.

  • Finally, phase 3 clinical trials test the vaccine on a large group of people, sometimes several thousand, to ensure it is both safe and effective for a population.

Several COVID-19 vaccines are now or will soon be in phase 3. While this happened more quickly than with normal clinical trials, UW Health experts want the community to know the process is being implemented methodically and carefully to ensure the vaccine works well for the broader population.

How does a vaccine work and why is it important? Vaccines are about preventing the disease, not treating it. A vaccine activates your immune system to produce antibodies, exactly like it would if you were exposed to the disease, but without getting you sick. Once you are vaccinated, you develop immunity to the disease without having to get the disease first. Treatments for COVID-19 are vitally important; but a vaccine will be the most effective tool we have to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and return to normal life.

Not only do vaccines safely and effectively prevent us from getting diseases like polio and the chicken pox, vaccines for HPV and hepatitis B have a secondary function of reducing the risk of certain cancers. Many health experts consider vaccines to be the most important medical advancement in recent history.