Skip to content

Vaccines are Not Developing

October 22, 2020

The search for a vaccine—is not a development.

Edward Jenner was an English physician who created the first vaccine, one for smallpox.

In 1798 he used the weak cox-pox to fool our immune system to create a protection against the deadly small-pox. Jenner is said to have saved more lives than any other human.

Today there is an attempt to create a vaccine against our small-pox of the 21st century.

In his day small-pox killed 10% or more of populations. In our day there is a similar threat. and thus the immense interest in the development of a vaccine. However, there is a misunderstanding about vaccines for COVID-19 that is pervasive. Read the New York Times or watch cable news—CNN, FOX, MSNBC—where “experts” explain how AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, and other drug companies are developing a vaccine. What developing means could potentially affect all of us, and a better understanding could save millions of lives.

They are not currently developing the vaccines, they are testing them. The point we want to emphasize is:

The development of a vaccine does not change the vaccine. The vaccine is the same at the start of its testing trials, and remains the same throughout.

The Oxford vaccine AZD1222 is the same today as it was months ago when it was created. The same is true for the other vaccines currently being tested around the world.

A vaccine is not developed in the usual sense. Drug companies can modify: how the drug is made, how it is stored, how it is given, how many doses are needed, and so on. Drug companies cannot modify the vaccine without starting over—the vaccine must remain the same. Trials can lead to a vaccine being adopted, or it can cause the vaccine to be abandoned. In the later case the drug company can try again, but with a different vaccine.

Not Development

Think of the what development means elsewhere.

  • In programming an app: We build a version and try it out. We find bugs and fix them. We use version numbers. Note, there is no AZD1222 version 3.
  • In writing a book: We make a draft. We have people read the draft. We fix typos and inaccuracies. Our quantum book’s {2^{nd}} edition is on version 11.
  • In engineering a product: You get the idea.

Here is a sample explaining vaccine development:

  • Phase I: The vaccine is given to healthy volunteers to see whether it is safe and what dosage (quantity) is most effective.
  • Phase II: The vaccine is given to target groups that would be vaccinated to see what dosage (quantity) is most effective and how well the immune system responds to it.
  • Phase III: The vaccine is given to an even larger group, consisting of thousands of people, to see how well the vaccine works to prevent COVID-19. People who do receive the vaccine are then compared with people who did not receive the vaccine.Note: there is no step that modifies the vaccine.


There are several consequences from this insight about vaccines. For one it makes sense to order millions of doses of a vaccine, even one that has not yet been proved to be safe and effective. For example,

The European Commission has placed its first advance order for a coronavirus vaccine, snapping up 300 million doses of AstraZeneca’s AZD1222 candidate developed by the University of Oxford, with an option on another 100 million.

Note we would never order a large number of copies of a book before all editing and typos were fixed. This is a “proof” that the vaccine is the same.

Actually it may make sense to even begin to take the vaccine. Especially for high risk people. In the past inventors of vaccines have often taken their own new vaccine, even before they were sure they worked.

Open Problems

I am a computer scientist with no experience in vaccines. In 1954 I did help test the Jonas Salk polio vaccine. My help was in the form supplying an arm that got a shot of the Salk polio vaccine, I was nine years old then. But I have a math view of vaccines—a viewpoint that sheds light on this misunderstanding.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 22, 2020 12:02 pm

    Dear Dick (& Ken),

    Back in the day when I was making The Big Bucks (time-adjusted dollars) doing statistical consulting in bioscience-medical-nursing-public-health settings, I noticed a certain analogy between Propositional Calculus Research (PCR 1.0) and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR 2.0). I was going to say something about it on a previous thread colliding these two topics but lost track of the links I needed, so maybe I’ll go dig them up now.



    • rjlipton permalink*
      October 23, 2020 2:57 pm

      Dear Jon:

      Would like to hear this connection.



      • November 3, 2020 10:52 am

        rjlipton is not the only one, also interested here too

  2. October 23, 2020 12:16 pm

    It has been claimed that the “vaccines” being tested are not really vaccines. For details, see William A. Haseltine, “Covid-19 vaccine protocols reveal that trials are designed to succeed“, Forbes.

    (Note: I have no background in these fields.)

  3. October 25, 2020 8:02 am

    So this is like the difference between finding a satisfying interpretation of a propositional formula and testing an interpretation that is handed you?

    • rjlipton permalink*
      October 26, 2020 1:00 pm

      Dear Jon:

      Nice analogy. The name “developing” is the misleading.

      Thanks always for your kind comments.



  4. Hank Igoe permalink
    December 17, 2020 10:41 pm

    Sounds like a semantic issue. When one uses the word “developing,” they mean the process he describes, not the literal chemical description of the vaccine itself.


  1. Theme One • A Program Of Inquiry 20 | Inquiry Into Inquiry

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: