COVID-19

Why Pfizer says it pushed for transparency and diversity in vaccine development process

Scott Tong Nov 9, 2020
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A person walks by Pfizer headquarters on Nov. 9, 2020, in New York City. Transparency is key for a vaccine-skeptical public. David Dee Delgado/Getty Images
COVID-19

Why Pfizer says it pushed for transparency and diversity in vaccine development process

Scott Tong Nov 9, 2020
Heard on:
A person walks by Pfizer headquarters on Nov. 9, 2020, in New York City. Transparency is key for a vaccine-skeptical public. David Dee Delgado/Getty Images
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The drug company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced initial late-stage vaccine data Monday. It revealed that the vaccine under development is more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19, though the trial is still ongoing and results are not yet complete.

The companies were shooting for a 60% threshold, and other experts said even a 55% effectiveness rate would have made the vaccine viable.

In the last few months, Pfizer and BioNTech have shared other details of the process including trial blueprints, the breakdown of the subjects and ethnicities, and whether they’re taking money from the government.

Why transparency? Surveys suggest a high degree of public skepticism about this vaccine process. In fact, 51% of Americans said they would “definitely” or “probably” take a vaccine, according to a September poll from the Pew Research Center. That’s down from May when 72% of respondents said they would likely get one.

Dr. Eric Topol, head of innovative medicine at Scripps Research, said, “I put a lot of pressure, as did others, to get those protocols transparent and released.”

Topol applauded Pfizer for waiting until it had enough data before going public on Sunday.

“So the fact that this was done right and it didn’t interfere with the election, it’s much more auspicious and important,” Topol said. “It wasn’t used as a prop or a tool. It stands on its own. That’s essential.” 

Pfizer also says it worked to diversify study participants: 42% are from “racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds.” 

That was important, said drug discovery chemist Derek Lowe, because many in the African American community have harbored suspicions about vaccines, ever since the government’s Tuskegee syphilis experiments decades ago.

Those were conducted on Black men who were neither informed of the study nor treated with effective drugs, “which was a medical disaster,” Lowe said. “An ethical and moral disaster. And it has messed up the relationship between that community and drug research ever since,” he added.

As for funding, many vaccine firms took R&D money from the government, though Pfizer did not. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CBS’ “Face the Nation” in September that the company did so to “liberate our scientists from any bureaucracy.” “When you get money from someone, that always comes with strings,” he said.

The next big test, said Jennifer Miller at the Yale School of Medicine, comes when drug companies release their data, “so that other scientists who the public trust can go in, replicate findings, and communicate them to the public. And hopefully build appropriate trust in a vaccine.”

Enough trust to take the vaccine and slow the pandemic.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

How long will it be until the economy is back to normal?

It feels like things are getting better, more and more people getting vaccinated, more businesses opening, but we’re not entirely out of the woods. To illustrate: two recent pieces of news from the Centers for Disease Control. Item 1: The CDC is extending its tenant eviction moratorium to June 30. Item 2: The cruise industry didn’t get what it wanted — restrictions on sailing from U.S. ports will stay in place until November. Very different issues with different stakes, but both point to the fact that the CDC thinks we still have a ways to go before the pandemic is over, according to Dr. Philip Landrigan, who used to work at the CDC and now teaches at Boston College.

How are those COVID relief payments affecting consumers?

Payments started going out within days of President Joe Biden signing the American Rescue Plan, and that’s been a big shot in the arm for consumers, said John Leer at Morning Consult, which polls Americans every day. “Consumer confidence is really on a tear. They are growing more confident at a faster rate than they have following the prior two stimulus packages.” Leer said this time around the checks are bigger and they’re getting out faster. Now, rising confidence is likely to spark more consumer spending. But Lisa Rowan at Forbes Advisor said it’s not clear how much or how fast.

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