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Pharma execs confident about a COVID-19 vaccine, but expect challenges

Pharma execs confident about a COVID-19 vaccine, but expect challenges
A "Be Well" message is diaplyed on the Apollo Theater marquee in the Harlem section of New York City on April 3. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

July 21 (UPI) -- Executives of five drug companies that are developing potential COVID-19 vaccines told congressional lawmakers Tuesday they're confident at least one will be effective -- but warned there are challenges ahead.

The hearing before before the House energy and commerce committee included testimony from Dr. Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of research and development at AstraZeneca; Dr. Macaya Douoguih, head of clinical development and medical affairs at Johnson & Johnson; Dr. Julie Gerberding, executive vice president and chief patient officer at Merck; Moderna President Dr. Stephen Hoge; and Pfizer Chief Business Officer John Young.

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In his opening statement, Young expressed confidence that scientists will find an effective vaccine against the coronavirus disease.

"I believe the probability is high that the biopharmaceutical industry will be able to develop one or more safe and effective vaccines, effective antiviral treatments, and targeted immune-modulators that patients and the world at large so desperately need," he said.

"We must also remain vigilant and be prepared to respond to potential new strains of the virus or future threats," he added, and to institute measures that prevent the "human and economic tragedy of COVID-19 from ever happening again."

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Pangalos said AstraZeneca hopes to have late-stage clinical data available by the fall. Should a vaccine candidate prove effective, he said the drugmaker has "an ambitious goal to supply the vaccine to as many countries around the world as possible."

"We are leveraging our own industrial capacity while also working with a number of partners to establish parallel supply chains in record time," he said.

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Gerberding warned that global vaccine manufacturing capacity is already at its limit, and it would have to be doubled to meet expectations for billions of doses.

"In the short term, one solution is typically to retrofit existing facilities," she said in prepared remarks. "In the mid-term, construction of additional capacity for SARS-CoV-2 vaccines is necessary. But there is still a need to ensure long-term capacity for better preparation for future pandemic response capability."

Gerberding voiced concern about "erosion of trust" in governments and the healthcare workers who will be conducting vaccination programs. Such mistrust, she said, could result in millions of Americans refusing a COVID-19 vaccine.

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"Ultimately, this misinformation threatens a dangerous reduction in people choosing to receive vaccines, which could extend the duration of this global threat."

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