Health experts express concern over public mistrust in COVID-19 vaccines

A Stanford researcher says according to one study, evidence of mistrust is already building.

ByDion Lim and Tim Didion KGO logo
Friday, October 23, 2020
FDA committee meets on COVID-19 vaccine
Health experts are expressing concern over possible public mistrust in the coronavirus vaccines that companies are working quickly to create under pressure from the White House.

An FDA committee met Thursday, tasked with evaluating when and if any of the coronavirus vaccines in clinical trial might be ready for release.

The FDA's vaccine advisory committee usually meets in near obscurity. But today, experts from around the country joined in on a live stream of the hearing.

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During the live hearing, researchers and health experts across the United States weighed in, warning the FDA against politicizing the process. The FDA assured them the agency would enforce a minimum efficacy standard before considering any vaccine for emergency clearance, and would also require strict follow-up testing.

"Now these are what we consider to be minimum criteria," said the FDA's Doran Fink, M.D.

But concerns poured in over the emergence release of other COIVD-related drugs that were later reversed, and over the perception that the agency is under intense political pressure from the White House to approve a vaccine quickly.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom is noting that even when a coronavirus vaccine is approved, it may take some time before it can be made available to all Californians.

"It was really fantastic to hear the really honest, down to earth discussion that if we don't restore public confidence in this, then all these people have told us they're not going to take this vaccine," said Sarah Christopherson of the National Women's Health Network.

Stanford researcher Robert Kaplan argued the evidence of mistrust is already building. He pointed to the affirmative response by a third of people in a recent Stanford/YouGov poll.

"A statement that said it's definitely or probably true that harmful vaccine effects are not being disclosed to the public," explained Kaplan.

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The committee has the responsibility of pouring over data submitted by companies, then delaying, or sending a release request along for FDA approval. Stanford infectious disease expert Yvonne Maldonado, M.D. says the advisory committee includes experts in the field, but they may not have the final word.

"The key word here is "advisory." So the government doesn't have to take any of these advisory recommendations officially," she explains.

And with the pressures for a vaccine perhaps only rivaled by demands for transparency, an obscure FDA committee is now likely to find itself working in a very bright spotlight.

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