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Trump’s bet on a vaccine could come at a cost

As coronavirus cases surge to record levels and states backtrack on efforts to reopen their economies, the Trump administration is increasingly pinning its hopes on a vaccine that may never come.

The federal government has poured $ 10 billion into Operation Warp Speed, the joint health-defense project to accelerate the development of a Covid-19 vaccine. Teams of military and Coast Guard personnel are now stationed at a seventh floor command center in HHS headquarters as the government tries to deliver 300 million vaccine doses by January — a feat that would require shaving years off the normal development process.

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But the audacious effort to break speed records on a vaccine comes with a cost.

Concerns about political pressure over vaccines have been echoed by Elias Zerhouni, the former head of the National Institutes of Health and a finalist for the Operation Warp Speed role that went to Slaoui.

“It was really obvious to me that what they wanted was a vaccine. That’s it. Deliver a vaccine by the end of the year,” Zerhouni told NPR on Monday. “There are political overtones to that, and I said I don’t think I’m the right person for that because I don’t believe you can do vaccines independent of therapeutics.”

Borio, the former acting chief FDA scientist, said the vaccine sprint should pay off with significant progress toward an effective shot — if not the full vaccine that Trump has sometimes suggested will be available before the election. “If I had to put money on this, I’d say we have some data and doses at the end of the year for a few of the candidates,” she said, singling out a pair of vaccines being developed by Moderna and AstraZeneca.

But both vaccines rely on what’s known as a gene-based approach, which Borio said raised a concern: the newer gene-based vaccines don’t have the same track record of producing potent and durable immune response as traditional protein-based vaccines do.

Scientists also said that they’re trying to take the long view on vaccine development, saying that this year’s sprint is more like a relay race: the vaccines rushed by the Trump administration will likely give way to superior replacements.

“The Operation Warp Speed vaccines may not be replacement technologies but instead companion technologies” to existing tactics to slow the virus, said Hotez, noting that the coronavirus vaccine’ effectiveness will likely improve over time. “It means we will still require to have in place ongoing public health control measures, masks, contact tracing, and some social distancing,” he added.

Meanwhile, senior officials like Fauci and Surgeon General Jerome Adams have acknowledged that simply producing the vaccine is not enough: The government will need to overcome vaccine hesitancy in many communities in order to get enough Americans to develop herd immunity, particularly because experts predict that the vaccine may need to be delivered in two separate doses.

Americans “may not like a government person in a suit like me telling them” to get vaccinated, Fauci warned on CNN on Sunday. “They really need to see people that they can relate to in the community — sports figures, community heroes, people that they look up to.”

“We should be enlisting every community leader in disproportionately affected communities,” said Shah, head of the Rockefeller Foundation, calling on the Trump administration to take the lead in setting up an infrastructure to push public-health messages now and treatments later. “When the vaccine’s available, that’s your sales force.”


Source: Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories

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