Pfizer officials announced on Friday that the pharmaceutical giant won’t be ready to apply for FDA approval of its COVID-19 vaccine until the third week of November.
That means there will be no miracle Election Day vaccine — which should assuage fears that this potentially lifesaving development might be prematurely rushed past scientific protocols for political ends.
A credible vaccine is needed, especially with coronavirus cases once again trending upward in Washington and around the country.
However, to prevent the spread of the potentially deadly virus, any vaccine must not only be safe and effective, it must also be widely adopted. That’s not guaranteed given the swirl of fear and misinformation concerning the record pace of Operation Warp Speed, the federal effort to accelerate development, production and distribution of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.
Only about half the people responding to a recent Pew Research Center survey said they would definitely or probably get a coronavirus vaccine if it were available today. That’s down from 72% in May. More than three-fourths of the survey respondents said they believed things were moving too fast: That a vaccine could be approved before its safety and effectiveness were fully understood.
Scientific and public health leaders are watching to make sure that doesn’t happen. Earlier this month, the University of Washington co-hosted with Johns Hopkins University a virtual symposium to discuss the scientific integrity of vaccine development.
Their goal is to ensure that potential vaccines are thoroughly and ethically tested, that trials are inclusive and vaccines, once manufactured, are equitably distributed to slow and eventually end the pandemic. It is reassuring to know that independent scientists, including world-class experts here in the Puget Sound region, are on the job.
Pfizer’s announcement takes the air out of election-related rumors, but more must be done to help reassure the nervous public that the accelerated timeline is not being pushed at the expense of safety.
Rarely has scientific development been the subject of such intense public scrutiny or skepticism. That demands unprecedented transparency and public education about scientific processes, too.