As phase 3 trials for a potential COVID-19 vaccine get underway this month, some are sounding the alarm that the process could be rushed.
Austinite Abby Strite is one of thousands of people across the country taking part in the trials. She said she was selected by the biotech company Moderna to participate a couple weeks ago.
“[Moderna staff] walked me through some quick screening questions," she said. "I sort of immediately qualified."
Strite was told she'd get two vaccines: The first on Sept. 16, the second 28 days later.
Everything was laid out to her. The entire trial was expected to take 25 months. In between and after the vaccines, she’d be interviewed. She'd have to fill out checkup information on an app.
But a week ago, Strite received another call. She said a scheduler, who sounded “frantic," asked to move up her appointment for the first vaccine.
“I thought it was odd,” she said. “And my concern is if we are rushing the vaccines, those who are administering the vaccines are going to be working in really rushed and pressure-cooker-type situations to get everyone their vaccines on time, which could produce errors.”
Moderna did not reply to a request for comment.
Strite said she’s not worried about her own health; she's worried about the efficacy of rushed trials, as well as the overall public health consequences.
And there’s reason to worry, Congressman Lloyd Doggett said.
“We know that President Trump and Vice President Pence have announced that we will have a vaccine by year end – maybe even by Election Day,” the Austin Democrat said. “All of that puts a good bit of pressure to rush.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently began reaching out to local public health officials telling them to prepare for a vaccine as early as late October.
Doggett said he’s worried the Trump administration is setting up an arbitrary deadline for political reasons. He is also concerned members of Congress still don’t have enough information about how the vaccine trials will work.
“I have made numerous inquiries about this,” he said. “And no, we are not getting all the information we need nor is the select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis. The administration, as in so many areas, is doing all it can to secret the information.”
Doggett said he has been asking the administration for the agreements reached with the pharmaceutical companies involved in the trials. He said many of the trials are being paid for largely with taxpayer money. Taxpayers are paying for 100% of the research and manufacturing for the Modern trials, he said.
In the absence of that information, Doggett said he’s forced to rely on stories from people like Strite, which he said he was grateful to hear.
“Beyond that, we will continue asking questions, requesting witnesses to come forward,” he said, “particularly if we have some October surprise here to be sure it’s real.”
Throughout the 25-month trial, Strite said, she plans to keep a watchful eye on what is being communicated to the public and how that compares to what she actually sees in the trial.
“I am trying to make sure that people are being skeptical or critical about the results that they are presented with by potentially our own president,” she said. “They may not be as final or optimistic – or just baked – as they may be presented.”
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