Ex-CDC director Frieden: Vaccine ‘not going to take COVID-19 off the table’
Former CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said the world will need more than a COVID-19 vaccine to end the pandemic.
“The bottom line is, for a vaccine to work, it has to be not only safe, effective and available — but also trusted,” Frieden, now president and CEO of the global health initiative Resolve to Save Lives, said during a press conference hosted by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
“One thing that's very important to understand is that even if we have a safe available, accessible, effective and trusted vaccine, it's not going to take COVID-19 off the table,” Frieden said. “There is no one thing that's going to make this pandemic magically disappear.”
There are currently dozens of COVID-19 vaccine candidates in various stages of development, including a vaccine co-developed by the NIH that entered phase 3 development in July. A phase 3 trial investigating another COVID-19 vaccine candidate being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University was temporarily halted recently because of an adverse reaction in a trial participant, but has resumed.
“It is unfortunately the case that proving that a vaccine works is easier than proving that it is safe,” Frieden said. “There is limited or no experience with some of the types of vaccines being developed.”
According to Frieden, two major concerns related to vaccine safety include the possibility of immune reactions like multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and antibody-dependent enhancement. Frieden said it will be important to track vaccine safety, counter misinformation and be transparent with study findings.
“If there was ever a teachable moment that we need to work together to drive down the risk — it is now,” Frieden said. “The way to make the world and this country safer is to build on, and not bypass, our public health system.”
It is also important to establish public trust in the government, Frieden said.
“Ultimately, all of us are connected,” he said. “If there is one thing that we should get from the horrific pandemic that we are living through, it is that if we recognize our interconnectedness and act accordingly, we will all be safer, we will all be healthier, we will have a more productive economy and will get our jobs and in-person education back.”
Frieden said the pandemic’s impact on public schooling is dependent on what happens around the schools.
“The school is not a bubble,” he said. “If you can control it in the community, you are going to be able to control it much better in a school.”
He said the U.S. “continues to be a laggard” regarding infection control, but improvements are possible.
“We as a country can do much better by focusing on what works, by working together and recognizing that the only enemy here is a virus,” Frieden said.