Experts vow ‘no cutting corners’ as vaccine tests expand
A huge international study of a COVID-19 vaccine that aims to work with just one dose is getting under way as top US health officials sought Wednesday to assure a sceptical Congress and public that they can trust any shots the government ultimately approves.
Hopes are high that answers about at least one of several candidates being tested in the US could come by year’s end, maybe sooner.
“We feel cautiously optimistic that we will be able to have a safe and effective vaccine, although there is never a guarantee of that,” Dr Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, told a Senate committee.
President Donald Trump is pushing for a faster timeline, which many experts say is risky and may not allow for adequate testing. On Wednesday he tweeted a link to news about the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine study and said the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “must move quickly!”
“President Trump is still trying to sabotage the work of our scientists and public health experts for his own political ends,” Sen Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state, said before ticking off examples of pressure on the FDA.
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn pledged that career scientists, not politicians, will decide whether any coronavirus vaccine meets clearly stated standards that it works and is safe. Vaccine development usually takes years but scientists have been racing to shorten that time, in part by manufacturing doses that will have to be thrown away if studies find they don’t work.
“Science will guide our decisions. FDA will not permit any pressure from anyone to change that,” Hahn said. “I will put the interest of the American people above anything else.”
FDA has faced criticism for allowing emergency use of some COVID-19 treatments backed by little evidence, but Hahn said if vaccine makers want that faster path to market, additional standards will be coming soon. Vaccines, unlike therapies, are given to healthy people and thus usually require more proof.
But Trump made clear at a Wednesday evening White House news conference that he was sceptical of any regulatory changes that might delay a vaccine’s authorisation, even if those changes are aimed at increasing public trust. Asked about the FDA considering stricter guidelines for emergency approval, Trump suggested the effort was politically motivated.