With anti-vaxx sentiment on the rise generally and President Trump hinting that a shot providing coronavirus immunity could arrive as soon as October — coincidentally just before the presidential election — it’s no surprise that many Americans are skeptical about the efficacy and safety of a COVID-19 vaccine.
In an effort to assuage those doubts, the chief executives of nine pharmaceutical companies released a letter Tuesday attempting to ensure Americans that a vaccine will not be rushed out before being meticulously tested. In the statement, headlined “Biopharma Leaders Unite to Stand With Science,” the chief executives write that their ongoing research is being done in “accordance with high ethical standards and sound scientific principles,” and that none of the companies will ask for regulatory approval from the FDA before they have tested the safety of a vaccine in phase-three clinical trials.
Companies that signed on to the letter include GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Merck, AstraZeneca, and Moderna. The latter two have produced vaccines that are undergoing phase-three trials.
“It’s unprecedented in my experience that industry would do something like this,” Ira Loss, a senior health care analyst at Washington Analysis, told Stat. “But we’ve experienced unprecedented events since the beginning of Covid-19, starting with the FDA, where the commissioner has proven to be malleable, to be kind, at the foot of the president.”
Indeed, while the letter presents the FDA as a neutral arbiter, the agency, like the CDC, has lately been seen by many observers as being susceptible to political pressure from the president, who has accused the agency of intentionally slowing vaccine research to hurt his reelection. In August, FDA Director Stephen Hahn overstated the effects of a blood plasma treatment favored by President Trump before being forced to backtrack amid public pressure.
The FDA, while it bungled the ramp-up of coronavirus testing early in the crisis, remains far more credible with the public on the question of vaccine safety than the president himself.
During a press conference on Monday, Trump hinted, not for the first time, that a vaccine could be forthcoming by Election Day — a target that experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci have called unlikely. “What I said is by the end of the year, but I think it could even be sooner than that,” Trump said. “It could be during the month of October, actually could be before November.”
Trump also responded to Democrats who have expressed skepticism on the matter. “It’s so dangerous for our country, what they say, but the vaccine will be very safe and very effective,” he said.
In a CNN interview aired on Sunday, vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris said that she would not trust Trump’s word on any vaccine, and that scientists “will be sidelined, because he’s looking at an election coming up in less than 60 days, and he’s grasping for whatever he can get to pretend he has been a leader on this issue when he has not.”