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In a week that saw President Donald Trump publicly at odds with the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over the timeline and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, a new survey reveals that Americans are becoming increasingly wary about getting the vaccine once it becomes available.
In the latest poll from the Pew Research Center, which surveyed more than 10,000 US adults from Sep 8 to Sep 13, about half (51%) say they would definitely or probably get a COVID-19 vaccine if it were available today. When Pew conducted the same poll in late April and early May, 72% said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine when it became available.
The decline was observed among all major political and demographic groups, Pew found, and could be attributable to concerns about the vaccine approval process. More than three quarters of respondents (77%) said they think it’s very or somewhat likely that a vaccine will be approved before its safety and effectiveness are fully understood, and 78% said their greatest concern was that the approval process will move too quickly.
In addition, 76% said concern about side effects is a major reason they would not get the vaccine, while 72% cited uncertainty about the effectiveness. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.
Vaccine approval, distribution under scrutiny
Concerns about the vaccine approval process extend beyond the general public. In a letter sent yesterday to the leaders of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), members of more than 90 organizations representing physicians, public health experts, scientists, and patients urged the agency to make the approval process fully transparent and adhere to regulatory standards.
“Sound safety and efficacy data that are reviewed by FDA and independent vaccine experts must support the authorization or licensure of a COVID-19 vaccine,” the groups wrote to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, MD, and Peter Marks, MD, PhD, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “Thorough and transparent FDA review of data supporting a vaccine’s approval is the essential foundation upon which we can strengthen public confidence in a COVID-19 vaccine.”
The letter also said that COVID-19 vaccines should be studied in the people most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, “specifically racial and ethnic minorities, elderly individuals, and people with other medical conditions.”
Questions about when a vaccine will be approved and distributed came to a head earlier this week, when CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, told US lawmakers that a vaccine wouldn’t be widely available until the spring or summer of 2021. Hours later, President Trump said in a press conference that Redfield was mistaken, and that a vaccine could be distributed as soon as October or November.
Today in a press conference, Trump said the United States will manufacture 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of the year, and that there will be enough to inoculate every American by April.
The companies with COVID-19 vaccine candidates in large phase 3 trials—Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca—have suggested they may have enough data to know whether their vaccines are safe and effective by October or November. But even if the FDA approved a vaccine or issued emergency use authorization before the end of the year, most experts agree that any COVID-19 vaccine won’t be widely available until the middle of next year. Initial doses will be in short supply, and early distribution will be focused on healthcare personnel, first responders, and those at increased risk of infection and severe illness.
Meanwhile, state health officials and medical supply experts tell the Wall Street Journal that they’re concerned about the many critical vaccine distribution issues that remain unresolved. The Trump administration released two vaccine distribution plans this week that rely heavily on the states, but state officials say it’s unclear whether the states will receive all the vaccine supplies, how many doses each state will get, and how states should handle the cold-storage requirements of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
Redfield told Congress this week that the CDC urgently needs $6 billion for COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts.
CDC revises testing guidance, again
President Trump’s rebuke of Redfield is just the latest example of the White House attempting to undercut the nation’s public health agency over the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The New York Times reported yesterday that controversial changes made last month to the CDC’s recommendations on who should get a coronavirus test were made not by CDC scientists but by political appointees in the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that oversees the CDC.
Those revisions, which were reportedly posted on the CDC website over objections from agency scientists, suggested that people who have been in close contact with a person with the coronavirus don’t necessarily need to get a test if they don’t have symptoms. The changes to the testing recommendation alarmed many public health experts.
Today, however, the CDC reversed that recommendation on its website. The site now says, as the guidelines had recommended before the Aug 24 revisions, that people who have been within 6 feet of a person with a confirmed infection for at least 15 minutes should get tested.