Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Experts are urging drug companies to be more transparent about how they’re testing vaccines.

By Jonathan Wolfe

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A push for more transparency from vaccine makers

A growing number of independent scientists and public health officials are urging drug companies to be more transparent about how they’re running the clinical trials for their vaccines.

Typically, drug companies don’t publish detailed information about the clinical trials until after they are finished to protect their intellectual property and competitive edge. Three drug companies have advanced clinical trials for vaccines in the United States — Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca — and none have released their protocols or statistical analysis plans. They say they’ve divulged enough information.

But scientists and experts expressed alarm after two moves by drug companies: First, AstraZeneca’s chief executive revealed information about a trial participant who became ill to a closed meeting organized by J.P. Morgan, withholding the information from the public. Second, Pfizer announced an expansion of its vaccine trials without relevant details, such as how it would measure the vaccine’s effectiveness in the larger study.

Critics argue that American taxpayers have a right to know the ins and outs of trials because billions of federal dollars fund the research. More disclosures could help independent scientists understand how the trials were designed and hold the companies accountable if they deviated from those plans. Greater transparency, experts say, would also bolster faltering public confidence in vaccines.

Russia and China have already started vaccinating under emergency use measures, and are making international deals to sell their experimental vaccines. Vox reported that China has already given hundreds of thousands of people experimental vaccines, even though rigorous studies have not yet been completed. The report came days after nine Western drug makers pledged not to put forward a vaccine until it had been thoroughly vetted for safety and efficacy, aiming to quell public fears that the companies would rush under pressure from the Trump administration.

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