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Drug company executives plan to tell the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday they can make a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine in record time, according to written testimony submitted ahead of the hearing.
Public health officials are facing increasing resistance from some people in the U.S. who worry about the safety of the vaccines and say they won’t likely get vaccinated — even if the drugs are widely available and affordable. Executives from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna and Pfizer will try to assuage those fears in testimony before the panel about their company’s latest vaccine developments.
“We believe that we can both accelerate vaccine development and ensure safety,” said Dr. Macaya Douoguih, head of clinical development and medical affairs at J&J’s vaccine unit. “We trust that all those engaged in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are committed to developing solutions as rapidly as possible, and the multiple vaccine technologies being employed allow for varying paces of development at different phases.”
Because of the pandemic, health officials, drug companies and researchers have been accelerating the development of vaccine candidates by investing in multiple stages of research even though doing so could be for naught if the vaccine ends up not being effective or safe.
There are no FDA-approved drugs or vaccines for the coronavirus, which has infected more than 14.7 million people worldwide and killed at least 610,560 as of Tuesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. There are more than 100 potential vaccines being developed worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, with at least 23 already in human trials.
It’s a record-breaking time frame for a process that normally takes about a decade to develop an effective and safe vaccine. The fastest-ever vaccine development, mumps, took more than four years and was licensed in 1967.
But according to a poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, only about half of Americans say they would get a coronavirus vaccine if scientists succeed in making one that works. Among Americans who say they wouldn’t get vaccinated, 7 in 10 worry about safety, according to the poll.
AstraZeneca, which released promising data from its early-stage trial for a potential vaccine on Monday, said it would employ “an independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board” for its late-stage trial as concerns about the safety of the vaccines persist.
“We must also achieve all of this in a manner that complies with the applicable regulatory requirements,” wrote Dr. Mene Pangalos, executive vice president for AstraZeneca’s biopharmaceuticals research and development.
Dr. Julie Gerberding, executive vice president and chief patient officer at Merck, made similar remarks, saying, “Speed is important, but we will not compromise scientific efficacy, quality, and above all, safety, despite the sense of urgency we all feel.”
The executives also maintained that the late-stage trials for the vaccines must have a diverse group of people. In the U.S., Black people continue to make up a disproportionate share of Covid-19 fatalities, according to U.S. data.
Conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma that tend to plague African Americans more than other racial groups could be contributing to more Covid-19 deaths. Income inequalities and disparities in access to health care, which generally lead to poorer diets and overall health, tend to hurt minority and lower-income populations more than others.
“All of us have been profoundly touched by this in some way,” Moderna President Dr. Stephen Hoge said. “We also know that communities of color and the working class have disproportionately borne the burdens of COVID-19. We must do everything we can to stop this pandemic.”