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COVID-19 Vaccine Faces A Major Step Next Week

On December 10, the first COVID-19 vaccine will be evaluated by a Food and Drug Administration advisory group, made of external vaccine experts. They'll say — in a public meeting — whether they think the FDA should give emergency use authorization for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, and why.

"And so that's a really important next step," said Dan Salmon, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "It'll be an opportunity for a much larger scientific, healthcare community to look at the data, and an opportunity for independent experts to ask questions."

Right now, Salmon said, all we know about any of the COVID-19 vaccines is what we've seen from the companies' press releases, but this upcoming meeting should provide a lot more information about the Pfizer vaccine. If it secures an emergency use authorization, he said the vaccine would go to a committee of experts who will advise the CDC on who should get the vaccine, who shouldn't and who should be prioritized.

Widespread acceptance, he said, really comes down to whether people trust this process. It's something he was actually a part of, previously directing vaccine safety for the National Vaccine Program Office.

"I know the process well. And it's a rigorous process. And it's fairly transparent. And so, I have trust in the process," he said. "And for people who are skeptical, they should watch (the upcoming meetings), they should see for themselves."

But Salmon says we should also try to understand people who have concerns about vaccines and what their concerns are.

Kawsar Talaat agrees.

"I think it's important to listen to people and to hear their concerns and address their concerns," said Talaat, who is an assistant professor who researches vaccines at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Talaat acknowledges that medicinal researchers have made grave mistakes in the past, but that said, she personally trusts the process as it is now. She even personally went through a COVID-19 vaccine trial and so have her friends and loved ones.

"I wouldn't risk my health or the people that I love if it wasn't something I felt was incredibly important or really necessary to get us out of this pandemic," she said.

As for concerns over the sped-up process for COVID-19 vaccines, Talaat said they did move faster than normal, but it wasn't because they skipped steps.

"We did do the phase 1, phase 2, phase 3 (trials), but we funded everything all at the same time," she said. "We just rolled in from one to the next so we didn't have any pauses. So we were planning for phase 3 as soon as phase 1 started, so it allowed us to do these trials very, very quickly."

Talaat said all the regular safety precautions were still in place for all these sped-up trials, too. However, she said, "because these vaccines are so new, we don't know how long their effectiveness will last."

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Madelyn Beck is Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. She's from Montana but has reported everywhere from North Dakota to Alaska to Washington, D.C. Her last few positions included covering energy resources in Wyoming and reporting on agriculture/rural life issues in Illinois.