Operation Warp Speed adviser concerned about vaccine skepticism 'exacerbated' by 'political context'

abcnews.com

abcnews.comBY: ADAM KELSEY, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) -- The chief science adviser to the Trump administration's coronavirus vaccine development program expressed concern Sunday over continued public skepticism about immunization safety.

'I'm very, very concerned about the hesitancy (to receive a vaccine) as it exists and I think it's very unfortunate because this has been exacerbated by the political context under which we have worked very hard with the companies and with, you know, the thousands of people that have been involved to make these vaccines available," Dr. Moncef Slaoui, Operation Warp Speed's chief science adviser said on ABC's "This Week."

Slaoui's comments come as over 40% of Americans reported that they are unwilling to receive a Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19 in a Gallup poll this week, and as the stand-off over President Donald Trump's refusal to concede the election to President-elect Joe Biden shrouds the continued development operation in politics amid the transition.

On "This Week," Slaoui, who has pledged to remain apolitical while advising the Warp Speed project, said that he is "concerned with anything that could derail the process." He then confirmed he has not yet had contact with Biden's team.

"Wouldn't that help ensure a seamless transition from one administration to another?" asked ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos.

"We're here to serve. If people want to contact us, of course we will be available," Slaoui said, while noting that "the rules are such that confidential information needs to be kept with the federal employees."

"But otherwise, of course, I'd be happy to be contacted and explain what we're doing, as I'm doing it now, to all the public," he continued.

This week, two companies, Moderna and Pfizer, reported early data indicating that their respective vaccines were over 90% effective without serious side effects -- results that White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Anthony Fauci labeled "extraordinary" at a press conference Thursday.

Slaoui echoed that characterization Sunday, drawing on decades of experience in vaccine research as he described the work of the pharmaceutical companies at the forefront of the breakthroughs.

"The vaccines have been developed as thoroughly and as scientifically as ever," he said. "I've been doing this for more than 30 years, this vaccine development is not different than any other, except that we have gone at an incredibly fast speed with incredible resources."

News of the early data arrived as the United States continues to experience a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases. In the past seven days, well over 1 million Americans were diagnosed with COVID-19 and 10,000 have died from the virus -- the largest number of deaths in one week since late April, according to the COVID Tracking Project. This week, the nation's total death toll from the virus since February eclipsed 250,000.

On Friday, Pfizer submitted an emergency use application for its vaccine to the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA is scheduled to discuss potential authorization on Dec. 10. Slaoui said Sunday that Moderna is planning to file its application by the end of the month and the FDA will evaluate it on Dec. 17.

This week, Trump criticized Pfizer, which, unlike Moderna, did not receive government funding for its research through Operation Warp Speed, claiming -- without evidence -- that it delayed its vaccine data until after the election in retaliation for Trump's efforts to lower drug prices.

"Do you have any evidence of that?" Stephanopoulos asked Slaoui Sunday.

The doctor said that Pfizer's timeline was, in part, dictated by a "60-day follow up after completion of immunization" to understand "the short-term and the predictable, long-term safety of the vaccine," calling it "an appropriate decision."

"I don't think any specific action has taken place to delay the vaccine," he added.

Both Slaoui and Gen. Gustave Perna, Operation Warp Speed's chief operating officer, have said that immunizations could begin as soon as 24 hours after approval is granted. Health care workers and individuals considered at-risk, due to age or pre-existing conditions, are likely to be the first to receive inoculations. Slaoui told ABC News last month, prior to the news from Moderna and Pfizer, that the government was planning to immunize most Americans by June 2021, and urged Americans Sunday not to hesitate.

"I feel very comfortable that these vaccines are safe. I'd be happy to take the vaccine, I'll be happy to have my children out or my parents have the vaccine. And we will be totally transparent with every single bit of data and information that we know about the vaccine for everybody to listen," he said. "The key, frankly, is, please don't make up your mind before you listen to all the information that the FDA, and that the CDC, and that all independent experts in the country will be able to look into and advise you."

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