Moderna, Pfizer Release Study Designs as Vaccine Distrust Grows Among Americans

Health + Wellness

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld has his arm disinfected by Dr. Chao Wang during a Moderna clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine at Meridian Clinical Research in Rockville, Maryland on July 27, 2020. Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The secretive blueprints for two of the leading vaccine candidates for the coronavirus were released Thursday. Pfizer and Moderna became the first two companies among the nine leading vaccine candidates to share their study designs, hoping that the disclosures will create trust and clarity for the public, as The New York Times reported.

The details that the two companies shared are usually kept secret until after a study is complete, yet the companies decided to publish the size of their trials, the selection criteria for patients, and the adverse reactions that would cause the trials to stop prematurely. The Moderna trial will include 30,000 participants, while the Pfizer trial will have 44,000 participants, according to The New York Times.

The information released shows that the two companies and their executives still do not know if the vaccines are safe and effective. Furthermore, the disclosure shows that the ambitious time frame that President Trump touts to have a vaccine available in a few weeks is all but impossible, according to The Washington Post.

Trump’s frequent comments about the availability of a vaccine to the general population by election day contradict the word of scientists, health officials and the companies manufacturing and testing the vaccine candidates. That mixed-messaging has sown confusion with the public and created the appearance that a vaccine candidate will be rushed to market prior to proving its safety and efficacy, according to The Washington Post.

“We need trust as much as we need efficacy,” said Andrew Pavia, an infectious-diseases specialist at the University of Utah School of Medicine, to The Washington Post. “We can’t afford to do anything that reduces the trust. It’s not just the trust of the public. Experts in the field have to see enough of the data to feel comfortable to recommend it.”

New poll number show that trust is eroding. Data released Thursday by the Pew Research Center show that the number of Americans who are willing to get a vaccine for the coronavirus has dropped precipitously since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to the new poll, about 51 percent of the population is likely to get the vaccine, while 49 percent said they are unwilling or unlikely to get it. Only 21 percent said they would definitely get the vaccine.

The percentage of people who were likely to get the vaccine is down from 72 percent in May, marking a 21 percent drop over the summer. The thorniest issue for study participants was their growing concern that a vaccine was being developed too fast and it would be widely distributed before it was proven to be safe and effective.

“Over the past month alone — a period in which President Donald Trump has repeatedly promised a vaccine will be delivered by the end of 2020 and possibly before the Nov. 3 election — the share of adults who say they would get vaccinated has fallen 8 points after public opinion on the matter generally remained steady over the summer,” the researchers wrote, as The Hill reported.

That growing unease about a vaccine is what prompted the nine companies with the leading vaccine candidates to take the unusual step of banding together to pledge that a vaccine would not be released prematurely, according to The Hill. For a vaccine to be effective, confidence has to grow so enough people will receive the vaccine to raise immunity levels high enough to stop transmission of the virus.

As for a realistic timeframe, Thursday’s disclosures by Moderna and Pfizer showed that there would not be a vaccine from either company by election day. Moderna’s estimated timetable showed it would not likely know if its candidate works until 2021. Pfizer did not release an estimated timetable in its disclosure, according to The New York Times.

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