WASHINGTON, D.C. — The country’s top health experts are standing by the process to speed up the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee questioned U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams and National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins about vaccine safety in a hearing Wednesday.
“There will be no shortcuts,” Adams said.
“The rigor of the scientific evaluation of safety and efficacy will not be compromised,” Collins said.
Lawmakers said there are concerns by some Americans that the process is being rushed.
“We need transparency from top to bottom,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) said.
Lawmakers questioned the health officials about the efficacy of a potential vaccine.
“Will the COVID-19 vaccine be more like the flu vaccine or more like the polio vaccine in terms of effectiveness?” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) asked.
“If I had to guess, I would say this is probably a better virus for a vaccine to really work well than the influenza virus which is a tough one because it changes every year,” Collins said. “But we will not know until we get through these trials.”
Senators also looked into plans for distribution.
“Who will decide who gets the vaccine first?” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) asked.
“There are no final recommendations yet but principles are that healthcare workers and frontline workers will be first in line,” Adams said. “Behind them, it’s looking at who is most vulnerable.”
A focus of the discussion was on Operation Warp Speed, the process by the Trump administration to speed up the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Collins said manufacturers are already making doses of some of the vaccines in clinical trials to have them ready in case they get approved.
“We are spending hundreds of millions of dollars for vaccine doses that we may have to throw away if they don’t work,” Collins said.
Another key concern during the hearing was access to the vaccine.
“Will you join us in the effort to make sure that this vaccine would be distributed free of charge to all Americans?” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) asked.
“Yes,” Adams responded. “As Surgeon General of the United States, I promise you we will use every federal tool that we have to make sure cost is not an obstacle.”
The health officials called on Congress to set an example and to encourage Americans to be up to date on all vaccinations.
“Use your bully pulpits to tweet, text, blog and shout that vaccines are safe, effective and more important now than ever,” Adams said.
Collins said there are now six vaccine candidates in clinical trials in the U.S. and three of them are in phase three of testing.
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