Vaccine makers deny political pressure in race for safe, effective shot

Vaccine makers deny political pressure in race for safe, effective shot
Person getting a vaccine. (Source: WVIR)

Leaders of the companies working on some of the top candidates for COVID-19 vaccines predict they should have shots available by early 2021, but said they will rely on the federal government to determine how to distribute them.

The heads of five biopharmaceutical companies with promising vaccine candidates told members of Congress Tuesday that they think they will be able to produce a safe and effective vaccine by next year.

“Unfortunately, today the pandemic is far ahead of us, but we in the biopharmaceutical industry are closing in faster than we ever imagined possible,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, a vice president and chief patient officer at Merck.

Gerberding, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control from 2002-2009, said there has been no political pressure to lower standards to speed up the vaccine and she was “relieved” by the rigor of the Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines for COVID-19 vaccine development.

“Speed is important but we will not compromise careful scientific efficacy, quality and above all safety as we evaluate the candidates, despite the emergency we all feel,” Gerberding said.

Lawmakers heard from the vaccine developers at a virtual hearing in the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Colorado Democrat Diane DeGette, the chair of the committee, said the updates on vaccine development is a “rare bit of good news in a harrowing time.”

“We’re now six months into this national public health crisis and COVID-19 case numbers are continuing to climb at a staggering rate. Today more than 140,000 Americans have lost lives to this disease,” DeGette told the panel.

“As long as the Trump administration continues to shirk their responsibility to lead a coordinated national response effort, sickness and deaths are going to continue to mount. It is also clear we are not going to be able to contain this without a rapid and robust deployment of public health measures and medical countermeasures, including a safe and effective vaccine,” DeGette said.

The hearing came as President Donald Trump shifted his tone on the virus Tuesday, telling reporters it would “probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better,” according to the Washington Post. The United States has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world. As of Wednesday morning, Virginia has recorded more than 80,000 cases and 2,051 deaths.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.