Nine drugmakers racing to develop a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. and Europe have signed a pledge to put safety first and adhere to scientific guidelines amid growing public skepticism and pressure from the White House to release a vaccine by the end of the year.
In a letter released Tuesday, the companies publicly vowed to follow “high ethical standards and sound scientific principles” set by regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Any product submitted for emergency use authorization will have to first demonstrate safety and efficacy through large clinical trials.
“We believe this pledge will help ensure public confidence in the rigorous scientific and regulatory process by which COVID-19 vaccines are evaluated and may ultimately be approved,” the letter states.
The companies in the agreement are AstraZeneca Plc, BioNTech SE, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Moderna Inc., Novavax Inc., Pfizer Inc. and Sanofi.
President Donald Trump has been pressuring health officials to speed up the development of a vaccine. He suggested last month that members of “the deep state” within the FDA are trying to delay vaccine efforts in order to hurt his reelection bid this November.
As Trump builds pressure on drug companies to release a vaccine, public concern that health officials and drugmakers may be cutting corners when it comes to vaccine development has grown, according to a recent CBS News poll.
Two-thirds of voters polled earlier this month said they would perceive a vaccine produced this year as “rushed” instead of as a “scientific achievement.” Just 21% of those polled also said they would get vaccinated as soon as a vaccine became available, at no cost. This is down from 32% in late July.
The FDA has faced its own public trust issues. Late last month, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn made erroneous claims that overstated the benefits of plasma treatments for COVID-19 patients, leading to the ouster of the agency’s top spokesperson.
Hahn has also been criticized for authorizing the emergency use of two malaria drugs for COVID-19 patients, which were later found to have no actual benefit. The emergency use authorization followed a public push by Trump.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), the Democratic nominee for vice president, said in an interview released Saturday that she would not trust Trump’s word on vaccine safety and warned that he may be inappropriately interfering in the vaccine development’s process.
“He’s looking at an election coming up in less than 60 days and he’s grasping to get whatever he can to pretend he has been a leader on this issue when he is not,” she told CNN.