NIH director, pandemic expert discuss development, rollout of COVID-19 vaccines

NIH director speaks to AHCJ Summit on Infectious DiseasesWhile describing the efforts of the National Institutes of Health and its partnerships with other agencies and pharmaceutical companies, NIH Director Francis Collins described the endeavor as “the most amazing outpouring of scientific capabilities, determination, talent that I’ve ever seen in my 27 years at NIH.”

During a recorded keynote speech at AHCJ’s Journalism Summit on Infectious Disease on Nov. 18, Collins said “The news [about recently announced vaccine trials] is extremely good. Both of these involving trials of 30,000 or more participants have been able to show that the messenger RNA-based vaccine strategy has resulted in over 90% efficacy for both of these and what appears to be a very reasonable safety record as well.”

During his half-hour interview with AHCJ board member and independent journalist Maryn McKenna, Collins detailed some of the steps that the NIH, Food and Drug Administration and vaccine manufacturers have taken to ensure that COVID vaccines will be safe, effective, and available in sufficient numbers to inoculate most Americans. At the same time, he warned that no vaccine is 100% effective.

The interview, which featured questions submitted in advance from AHCJ members, was followed by a live Q&A session with Hilary Marston, M.D., medical officer and policy adviser for pandemic preparedness at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. She dove into more of the questions about science and what she says is a “robust evaluation” that the vaccines will undergo.

Marston also discussed the rollout of vaccines to vulnerable populations and the challenges of vaccine storage.

She warned that the public should not expect the vaccines to end the COVID-19 pandemic quickly. “It is imperative that we all understand that for the foreseeable future, we are looking at a combination COVID-prevention situation, and that is one where we do not put everything on vaccines,” she said.

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