Top Health Officials Vow COVID-19 Vaccine Will be 'Safe' and Without 'Shortcuts'

Top U.S. health officials on Wednesday repeatedly offered assurance to members of Congress that an eventual vaccine for COVID-19 will be brought to market only when it is absolutely safe to do so, despite suggestions by President Donald Trump that one may be rushed to market before Election Day.

Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams and National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins vowed to senators that politics would remain absent from the scientific process of delivering a vaccine in order to achieve the highest possible rate of public confidence.

"There will be no shortcuts," Dr. Adams, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, told the Senate Health Committee. "This vaccine will be safe, it will be effective, or it won't be moved along."

Dr. Collins offered similar remarks, saying he has "cautious optimism" that a vaccine will be available by the end of the year.

"I cannot say strongly enough that the decisions about how this vaccine will be evaluated and assessed will be based on science," he said. "That can be the only basis... Otherwise, I'll be no part of it."

Jerome Adams, Francis Collins
Surgeon General Jerome Adams (L) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins (R) bump elbows after testifying before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on September 9, 2020 in Washington, DC to discuss vaccines and protecting public health during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by GREG NASH/POOL/AFP/Getty

The reassurances from some of the government's top health officials came as Trump has suggested a vaccine could be available prior to Election Day, despite the warnings from health experts that such a timeline is extremely unlikely. Democrats, including the Democratic presidential ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, have suggested Trump may attempt to prematurely approve a vaccine to help his chances at the ballot polls.

"We're gonna have a vaccine very soon. Maybe even before a special date," Trump said over the weekend, while deriding his Democratic opponents for suggesting he may politicize a vaccine. "You know what date I'm talking about."

On Tuesday, two days after Trump's comments, nine major drug companies sought to bolster public confidence in any future vaccine by taking the extraordinary step of pledging not to rush the trial process, saying in a joint statement they will "make the safety and well-being of vaccinated individuals our top priority."

A Phase 3 study being conducted by AstraZeneca, one of the companies that signed the safety pledge, was halted on Tuesday after a serious reaction from a participant. But Dr. Collins said the move was not unusual in the vaccine evaluation process.

Dr. Collins explained that any vaccine will have to pass several levels of review after proving efficacy in a Phase 3 trial before it can be approved. Those include separate evaluations by a Data and Safety Monitoring Board comprised of scientists and representatives of the Food and Drug Administration.

In an effort to speed along the distribution of a vaccine once one is finally approved, Dr. Collins told senators that they've eliminated down times in the process, and the federal government has invested heavily in manufacturing several vaccines that they realize may not ultimately be viable.

"None of the safety and efficacy assessments will be skipped or abbreviated," Dr. Collins added.

Top Health Officials Vow COVID-19 Vaccine Will be 'Safe' and Without 'Shortcuts' | U.S.