Dangers of releasing vaccines without adequate testing: Top docs explain

The first test of an experimental coronavirus vaccine began on Monday at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle, as the medical community works to get a vaccine to market as quickly and safely as possible.

However, the vaccine will not be available soon enough to impact the immediate spread of COVID-19, and there is good reason for that, explained Dr. Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection & Immunity at Columbia University in the new Fox Nation special "Five Flus."

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"The typical timeframe for bringing out a vaccine is more than 18 months," Lipkin told Fox Nation.  "When you accelerate that process and you start cutting short on the amount of time you have for safety and efficacy testing because you want to prevent a pandemic, there's always the risk that you're going to wind up causing disease."

In fact, that's what happened more than four decades ago, when the U.S. was struck by the Swine Flu.

"It was 1976, an election year, Democrat Jimmy Carter versus Republican incumbent President Gerald Ford," narrated Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner in the Fox Nation special.

"Just as the political race was underway, two soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey, came down with the flu," Harris continued. "Doctors confirmed they had been infected with the Swine flu, a virus believed to have started with pigs and then jumped to humans."

U.S. public health officials feared that the 1976 flu was the same strain as the 1918 Spanish flu, which killed 50 million people worldwide, including nearly 700,000 Americans.

"People were really keyed up to thinking about a new pandemic virus and they were worried this could be it," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. "What they did is embark on a very ambitious vaccination program to try and vaccinate the country against this new pandemic virus."

President Ford went on national television and called for a mass inoculation of every man, woman and child in the United States. More than 40 million Americans rushed to get the shot they thought would save their lives.

"Unfortunately, there were individuals that had reactions to this vaccine," said Adalja. "One reaction in particular was called Guillain-Barre syndrome, which is an autoimmune neurologic syndrome which causes weakness in your limbs and it can sometimes kill people."

The Swine flu outbreak of 1976 never materialized into a full-blown epidemic, but 33 people did die from the vaccine that was created to protect them from the virus.

However, the doesn't mean that the American medical community is not working furiously to release a coronavirus vaccine, as quickly and safely as possible.

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"The genetic sequence [for the novel coronavirus] was released from Chinese officials early in January, a few weeks after they were actually able to pinpoint the virus," explained Dr. Nicole Saphier, a full-time practicing physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a Fox News Contributor in Fox Nation's "Pandemics and Epidemics 101."

"Right away, American scientists started working on that genetic sequence in hopes of building a vaccine," she said, "At this point, they say they have found a vaccine that is going to work."

To watch all of the new Fox Nation special "Five Flus," which looked back at the worst flu outbreaks: the Spanish flu (1918), the Asian flu (1957), the Hong Kong flu (1967-68) and the Swine flu (1976) go to Fox Nation. The Fox Nation special "Pandemics and Epidemics 101" is available for free on Fox Nation.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.