COVID VACCINES & TREATMENTS: SEPARATING THE FACTS FROM FICTION

A vaccine could be ready by fall pending FDA approval. Will it be safe and effective? Will it be made readily available to everyone? And who’ll decide who gets priority access? And will there be treatments for everyone else? While there are currently no approved therapies, there is plenty of controversy and misinformation surrounding drugs treatments. Tonight, former FDA Associate Commissioner Peter Pitts, who was once named one of the 300 “most powerful people in American healthcare” by Modern Healthcare Magazine, weighs in on our safety as the city readies to reopen for business.

Aired on June 3, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> YOU KNOW, AS THE GLOBAL SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY SCRAMBLES TO DEVELOP A VACCINE FOR COVID-19 THE RACE IS ALSO ON TO FIND EFFECTIVE TREATMENTS.

WHILE THERE ARE NO PROVED THEIR PIECE AT THIS TIME, THERE'S PLENTY OF CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING SOME OF THESE DRUGS AS WELL AS THE SURGE FOR VACCINE.

SO TONIGHT WE THOUGHT WE'D TRY TO SEPARATE FACT FROM FICTION WITH THE ACCEPT OF PROFESSOR PETER PITTS.

PROFESSOR PITTS IS A FORMER ASSOCIATE COMMISSIONER FOR THE FOOD AND DRUG ASSOCIATION AND CURRENTLY THE PRESIDENT AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE CENTER FOR MEDICINE AND THE PUBLIC INTEREST, A NONPARTISAN ORGANIZATION FOCUSED ON THE STUDY OF -- DR. PITTS, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME ON.

PROFESSOR, LET'S START WITH A VACCINE.

WHAT DOES YOUR EXPERIENCE TELL YOU?

DO WE REALLY HAVE A COVID-19 BY THE FALL AS THE PRESIDENT HOPES?

YOU KNOW, THERE ARE REALLY THREE PARTS TO A VACCINE REACHING THE PUBLIC, THE FIRST IS THE TOUGH SCIENCE BEHIND ACTUALLY FIGURING IT OUT.

THE SECOND IS GETTING IT APPROVED THROUGH THE FDA AND THE THIRD IS MANUFACTURING IT.

OF COURSE, WE HAVE TO GET IT TO THE PEOPLE THAT NEED IT.

I THINK THE PRACTICAL REALITY OF HAVING A VACCINE BY THE END OF 2020 IS VERY OPTIMISTIC.

I THINK I WILL CHOOSE TO BE CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC WITH A CAPITAL 'C' ON CAUTION.

I HOPE I'M WRONG BUT I THINK THE REALITY IS THE DIFFICULTY OF ACTUALLY GETTING THE JOB DONE LIKELY PRECLUDES SOMETHING BEFORE THE END OF THIS YEAR.

BUT, YOU KNOW, PROFESSOR, EVEN IF WE COULD COME UP WITH A VACCINE BY NOVEMBER, OCTOBER, YOU KNOW, SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE THERE'S THE ARGUMENT THAT'S BEING MADE THAT TRYING TO DEVELOP A VACCINE AT WARP SPEED, TO USE THE PRESIDENT'S PHRASE, INEVITABLY MEANS SKIPPING STEPS AND THAT THAT IS DANGEROUS.

WHAT'S YOUR TAKE?

WELL, YOU KNOW, THERE'S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RUSHING, WHICH IS BAD, AND EXPEDITING WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT WE'RE DOING.

EXPEDITING MEANS PUTTING ALL THE POWER WE HAVE, ALL THE BRAIN POWER, ALL THE INDUSTRIAL POWER, ALL THE ACADEMIC POWER, THE THINKING POWER, THE SMARTS BEHIND A VACCINE THAT WILL ULTIMATELY MAKE IT HAPPEN FASTER, BUT WHEN YOU RUSH, WHEN YOU SKIP STEPS THAT'S INVITING DISASTER.

YOU DON'T WANT THAT TO HAPPEN.

WHEN A SLUE OF BIOPHARMACEUTICAL EXECUTIVES RECENTLY SAID THAT THEY WOULD HAVE A VACCINE READY BY OCTOBER, THESE ARE BIG MULTI-NATIONAL COMPANIES, THIS HE KNOW WHAT THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT.

WHAT THEY MEAN IS NOT AN APPROVED VACCINE BUT RATHER A VACCINE THAT MIGHT GET FROM THE FDA WHAT'S CALLED AN EMERGENCY USE AUTHORIZATION, AN EUA.

THAT WOULD REQUIRE SOMEBODY TO FIGURE OUT THE PRIORITIZATION OF WHO GETS VACCINATED FIRST.

HEALTH CARE WORKERS, POLICE OFFICERS, FIREFIGHTERS, TEACHERS, ESSENTIAL WORKERS ON THE MASS TRANSIT SYSTEM.

WHO DECIDES?

HOW DO YOU GET THE VACCINE TO THEM?

BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY YOU DON'T WANT TO PRIORITIZE AND GIVE THEM A VACCINE THAT DOESN'T WORK OR EVEN WORSE, ALLOWS THE VACCINE TO MUTATE TO LEARN TO BEAT THAT VACCINE.

SO, YOU KNOW, CAUTION MUST BE TAKEN, BUT THINGS CAN BE EXPEDITED IF WE DO IT PROPERLY.

IT'S NOT LIKE THIS COUNTRY HASN'T HAD THE EXPERIENCE OF EXPEDITING A VACCINE WITHOUT NEGATIVE AFFECTS.

THE 1976 SWINE FLU VACCINE, IT HAD SOME NEGATIVE EFFECTS, WHICH ARE LINGERING IN SOME PEOPLE'S MINDS, BUT NEVERTHELESS THE FDA IS ON BOARD AND THROUGH THIS COURSE OF ACTION AND THE EVER CAREFUL DR. FAUCI IS ALSO ON BOARD, AT LEAST HE HAS SAID THAT, YES, IT COULD BE POSSIBLE THAT WE COULD HAVE IT BY THE END OF THE YEAR.

SHOULD THIS GIVE US CONFIDENCE NO THOSE PEOPLE WATCHING RIGHT NOW WHO ARE SOMEWHAT CAN EARNED?

I THINK OBVIOUSLY WE WANT A VACCINE THAT CHANGES THE QUESTION FROM MITIGATION TO CONTAINMENT A BIG STEP.

THE GOOD NEWS IS EVEN SHORT OF A VACCINE WE HAVE THERAPIES, EXISTING REPURPOSED THERAPY GS AND NEW THERAPIES COMING FROM THE FDA THAT ALLOW US TO MANAGE THE VIRUS, TO MITIGATE IT A LOT BETTER.

NOW THAT WE'RE ABLE TO STOP PEOPLE FROM DYING IN HOSPITAL, THE ELDERLY, PEOPLE WITH UNDERLYING HEALTH CARE CONDITIONS, THE 85% OF PEOPLE THAT WILL GET COVID-19 WILL GENERALLY RIDE IT OUT AT HOME IN BED WITH PLENTY OF LIQUIDS AND TENDER LOVING CARE.

IF WE CAN MAINTAIN A SAFETY NET, AN IRON DOME OVER THOSE MOST AT RISK I THINK WE'VE COME A LONG WAY TOWARDS VICTORY SHORT OF A VACCINE THAT WILL ALLOW US TO OPEN THE ECONOMY AND THERE'S NEVER GOING TO BE A 100% SAFE WAY TO DO THAT.

WHAT WE NEED ARE SMART WAYS TO DO IT, I THINK WE ARE WELL ON OUR WAY TO FIGURING THAT ONE OUT.

WE WILL TALK ABOUT ALL THAT AND WE WILL TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE THERAPIES BEING TRIED AROUND THE WORLD.

WHETHER THERE IS A VACCINE SOONER OR LATER THE FACT REMAINS THAT MANY AMERICANS, I WAS SURPRISED TO READ THIS, AND I READ THIS WHILE PREPARING FOR THIS INTERVIEW, THAT THERE ARE MANY AMERICANS INCLUDING COMMUNITIES PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE TO COVID-19 LIKE AFRICAN-AMERICANS WHO ARE VERY SKEPTICAL ABOUT GETTING THE VACCINE.

IN FACT, ACCORDING TO A RECENT POLL ONLY 50% OF AMERICANS OF THE AMERICANS SURVEYED SAID THAT THEY WOULD TAKE IT AND ONLY 25% OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS SAID THAT THEY WOULD GET THE VACCINE.

TO WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THE SKEPTICISM?

I'M A VETERAN OF THE VACCINE WARS, I CAN SHOW YOU MY SCARS ONE DAY.

I'M AN OPTIMIST, I THINK THAT THIS IS A TEACHING MOMENT FOR AMERICA AS TO THE VALUE OF VACCINES AND NOT JUST A COVID-19 VACCINE BUT FOR CHILDHOOD VACCINES AND OTHERS.

THAT IS THE WAY YOU REALLY WIN, WHETHER IT'S MEASLES, MUMPS, RUE BELLA, SMALLPOX, PERTUSSIS, VACCINES CHANGED THE EQUATION 100% IT'S TRUE ALL AROUND THE WORLD.

WHEN AMERICANS SAY THAT THEY ARE SUSPICIOUS, THEY DON'T WANT IT, I BELIEVE THAT REQUIRES A MASSIVE FEDERAL EDUCATION CAMPAIGN TO EXPLAIN TO PEOPLE THE VALUE OF VACCINES, NOT JUST COVID-19 VACCINE, BUT ESPECIALLY CHILDHOOD VACCINES.

I THINK THAT IT CAN BE DONE BY AND LARGE BECAUSE IT'S THE ABSOLUTE POSITIVE TRUTH.

SO ASSUMING WE HAVE THAT CAMPAIGN, ASSUMING, FIRST OF ALL, THAT WE HAVE A VACCINE AND ASSUMING THAT WE HAVE THAT CAMPAIGN BUT THE SKEPTICISM REMAINS, HOW IS THE EFFICACY OF THE VACCINE EFFECTIVE BY LARGE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE NOT GETTING VACCINATED?

WELL, YOU KNOW, WHEN YOU TELL PEOPLE THAT NO VACCINE IS 100% EFFECTIVE THEY SAY, WHY BOTHER?

BUT THE FACT OF THE MATTER S YOU KNOW, TRYING TO EXPLAIN HERD IMMUNITY TO A NON-SCIENTIFIC AUDIENCE IS ACTUALLY A LOT HARDER THAN IT SEEMS.

WHEN YOU GET THE MAJORITY OF THE POPULATION VACCINATED, YOU CREATE A HERD SITUATION AND THE VIRUS HAS NOWHERE TO GO, IT HAS NOWHERE TO HOST AND IT DIES.

I THINK IT'S INCUMBENT ON US IN THE PUBLIC HEALTH COMMUNITY TO EXPLAIN THAT TO PEOPLE.

THAT IT ISN'T JUST GETTING PART OF THE POPULATION VACCINATED OR GETTING PEOPLE IN NEW YORK VACCINATED, IT'S GETTING EVERYBODY VACCINATED AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE AND SO THAT WE CAN UNDERSTAND EXACTLY WHERE WE ARE AS A NATION IN TERMS OF BEING NOT NECESSARILY IMMUNE, BUT PROTECTED AGAINST THIS VIRUS.

PROFESSOR, AS YOU MENTIONED, THERE ARE CURRENTLY A NUMBER OF THEIR BYES BEING USED HERE AND AROUND THE WORLD, VACCINE OR NO VACCINE.

LET ME MENTION JUST A FEW OF THEM.

WHAT A FEW OF THOSE TREATMENTS AND GET YOUR RESPONSE, LET US KNOW HOW TRUE OR HOW FALSE WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT THESE THINGS IS.

FIRST OF ALL, THERE'S THE ANTI-VIRAL DRUG REMDESIVIR, IT'S OFTEN TOUTED AS THE MOST PROMISING DRUG THAT WE HAVE RIGHT NOW TO TREAT COVID-19.

IS IT?

REMDESIVIR IS NOT A GAME CHANGER, WHAT REMDESIVIR GIVES US IS THE ABILITY TO TREAT PEOPLE MORE AGGRESSIVELY WHO ARE ALREADY SUFFERING FROM SIGNIFICANT SYMPTOMS OF COVID-19, PEOPLE WHO ARE GENERALLY IN THE HOSPITAL.

THIS IS NOT A TREATMENT FOR THE GENERAL POPULATION, NOR IS IT AN APPROVED DRUG.

IT WAS GIVEN AT EMERGENCY USE AUTHORIZATION BY THE FDA TO BE USED BY DOCTORS AT THEIR DISCRETION FOR PATIENTS SUFFERING SIGNIFICANT MANIFESTATIONS OF THE VIRUS.

DOES IT HELP?

IT CERTAINLY DOES.

IT'S A TOOL WE HAVE TO MAKE SURE PEOPLE WHO ARE MOST AT RISK GET THROUGH THE VIRUS AND CAN LEAVE THE HOSPITAL AND RETURN TO THEIR LIVES.

I THINK THAT'S INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT.

WE HAVE TO PROTECT THOSE MOST AT RISK.

NOW, THERE IS THE EVER CONTROVERSIAL ANTIMALARIA DRUG HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE, OFTEN PRESCRIBED ALONG WITH THE ANTIBIOTIC ERYTHROMYCIN AND ZINC, I BELIEVE.

TWO MYTHS THAT DEVELOPED ABOUT THIS DRUG, ONE IS THAT IT IS A SILVER BULLET LIKE THE PRESIDENT KIND OF MADE IT SOUND THAT WAY EARLY ON, AND, IN FACT, THERE ARE SOME DOCTORS, ONE DOCTOR IN FRANCE IN PARTICULAR, THAT SAYS THAT DOCTORS DON'T PRESCRIBE IT, IT WOULD BE UNETHICAL BECAUSE IT'S SO GOOD.

THE MORE RECENT MYTH OR WHAT'S BEING SAID ABOUT IT LATELY IS NOT ONLY IS IT NOT EFFICACIOUS IT COULD VERY WELL KILL YOU.

WHAT'S THE TRUTH?

FIRST OF ALL, NO DRUG IS 100% SAFE EVER.

THERE ARE ALWAYS RISKS.

THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH ABOUT HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE IN THE U.S.

IS THAT DOCTORS CAN PRESCRIBE IT FOR WHATEVER COURSE OF ACTION THEY SEE NECESSARY, WHETHER THAT'S MALARIA OR LUPUS OR RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS OR COVID-19.

A LOT OF ANECDOTES OUT THERE RELATIVE TO THE VALUE OF HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE, COVID-19 COVID-19, BUT THE PLURAL OF ANTIDOTE IS NOT DATA.

THE SOLE SCIENTIFIC DATA ON HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE HAS NOT BEEN THAT OPTIMISTIC.

IT HASN'T HELPED THAT MUCH.

PEOPLE WITH CERTAIN UNDERLYING HEALTH CONDITIONS, CERTAINLY HEART DISEASE AND DIABETES IT'S BEEN QUITE DELETERIOUS, QUITE A LOT OF ADVERSE EVENTS.

THE PRESIDENT SAID HE'S TAKING IT PROPHYLACTICALLY NOT TORT COVID-19 AND I HAVE TO BE PYRITE TO SAY THERE IS NO EVIDENCE TO THAT EFFECT.

CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION.

IT'S LIKE SAYING I EAT TOAST EVERY MORNING AND I HAVE NEVER GOTTEN COVID-19 THEREFORE IT PREVENTS ME FROM GETTING COVID-19.

THERE IS THE PRESIDENT IS GOING AGAINST THE BEST ADVICE OF THE CDC AND THE FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION AND I THINK THAT CALLS INTO QUESTION WHETHER OR NOT THE PUBLIC IS GOING TO LOSE CONFIDENCE IN PUBLIC HEALTH AGENCIES AND I THINK THAT'S A VERY DANGEROUS UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCE OF SOME OF THE PRESIDENT'S COMMENTS.

ON THE OTHER HAND, PROFESSOR, BECAUSE I JUST HEARD THIS RECENTLY IT WAS USED EXCESSIVELY IN SPAIN DURING ITS APEX, 74% OF DOCTORS PRESCRIBED IT, IT'S USED EXCESSIVELY NOW IN INDIA TO GOOD END.

THE FACTS ARE MIXED.

BUT, YOU KNOW --

NO, THE FACT IS THAT GOOD DOCTORS CAN AT THEIR DISCRETION USE THAT DRUG TO TAKE CARE OF PATIENTS IF THEY SEE FIT.

MY POINT IS I RECENTLY HAD A GUEST WHO TOLD ME THAT UNFORTUNATELY NOWADAYS QUESTIONS THAT SHOULD BE SETTLED THROUGH SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY OR BY SCIENTIFIC METHODS ARE ALL TOO OFTEN BEING POLITICIZED.

THAT YOU CAN ALMOST PREDICT CERTAIN QUESTIONS BASED ON WHAT THE PERSON THINKS ABOUT THE PRESIDENT.

IF HE LOVES THE PRESIDENT OR HE HATES THE PRESIDENT, THAT WILL BE THE DETERMINATION OF WHAT HE THINKS ABOUT THIS PARTICULAR SCIENTIFIC ISSUE.

DO YOU THINK THAT THAT'S CREPT INTO THE DEBATE ABOUT HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE?

OF COURSE IT IS.

THE PRESIDENT TO HIS CREDIT IS TRYING TO BE AMERICA'S OPTIMIST IN CHIEF IN OUR BATTLE AGAINST COVID-19 AND HE WANTS TO FIND GOODS POSITIVE THINGS TO SAY.

IN SOME AREAS HE SUCCEEDS IN OTHERS HE FAILS.

IN MY EXPERIENCE POLITICIANS SHOULD ALLOW THE PUBLIC HEALTH EXPERTS TO DO THE TALKING RATHER THAN SHOOTING FROM THE HIP.

THIS IS NOT THE TIME OR PLACE FOR THAT.

ALL RIGHT.

REALLY QUICKLY, VERY QUICKLY BECAUSE WE ARE ALMOST OUT OF TIME.

CONVALESCENT PLASMA IS SOMETHING ELSE THAT'S BEING TOUTED.

WHAT IS IT AND HOW EFFICACIOUS IT IS?

ONCE YOU HAVE COVID-19 I HAVE ANTIBODIES THAT CAN BE CALLED CONVALESCENT PLASMA ONCE YOU GET A BLOOD TRANSFUSION AND THEY CAN BE TAKEN OUT AND USED AS KIND OF A SERUM TO HELP PEOPLE GET THROUGH THE DISEASE.

IT HAS PROMISING EARLY CLINICAL DATA.

IF SOMEBODY IS ALREADY SICK AND IN THE HOSPITAL AND THEY GET A TRANSFUSION OF THIS CONVALESCENT PLASMA IT CAN HELP REDUCE THE SEVERITY OF THE SYMPTOMS AND DURATION OF THE DISEASE.

IT'S AN EXCITING PROPOSITION, BUT, AGAIN, STILL A LOT OF SCIENCE YET TO COME BUT IT IS ACTUALLY BEING USED IN HOSPITALS RIGHT NOW.

AS YOU SAID, NEITHER THIS NOR ANY OF THE OTHER TREATMENTS WE DISCUSSED IS FDA APPROVED.

THERE IS NO SILVER BULLET.

THERE IS NO CURE.

IN WE DON'T FIND ONE AND WE DON'T HAVE A VACCINE, WHAT IS THE NEXT FEW MONTHS OR THE NEXT YEAR LOOK LIKE FOR US?

I THINK AS WE CONTINUE TO UNDERSTAND OUR PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY IN BEATING COVID-19, SOCIAL DISTANCING, ENHANCED PERSONAL HYGIENE, WEARING MASKS, YOU KNOW, I THINK THAT WE CAN BEGIN TO REOPEN THE ECONOMY AS LONG AS WE CAN PROTECT THOSE MOST AT RISK.

WE HAVE THE TOOLS AND KNOWLEDGE TO DO THAT NOW.

COVID-19 IS A VERY WYLIE VIRUS, WE'RE UNDERSTANDING IT A LOT BETTER AND THAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP TOWARDS REOPENING THE ECONOMY SMARTLY.

A RECENT PIECE IN 'WASHINGTON POST' ARGUED THAT COVID-19 IS LIKELY TO BECOME ENDEMIC, THAT IS THAT IT WILL BE WITH US FOREVER LIKE THE MEASLES, LIKE HIV OR CHICKENPOX.

DO YOU AGREE AND IF IT DOES DOES IT MATTER IF WE DON'T GET A HANDLE ON IT.

IT'S A VIRUS, IT EXISTS.

DOES IT MATTER?

NOT REALLY.

I THINK THERE'S A DANGER HERE IN COMPARING COVID-19 WITH HIV/IDS.

IN THE EARLY DAYS OF HIV/AIDS HAVING THE DISEASE WAS A DEATH SENTENCE, PERIOD.

THAT IS NOT NEARLY THE CASE WITH COVID-19.

42% OF THE PEOPLE IN NEW YORK WHO DIE FROM COVID-19 WERE IN AN ASSISTED LIVING SENIOR FACILITY.

WE HAVE TO TAKE ALL THESE NUMBERS INTO PERSPECTIVE AND MOVE FORWARD.

ALL RIGHT.

PROFESSOR, WE ARE OUT OF TIME.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

THERE IS A LOT TO TALK B WE WILL HAVE YOU BACK TO CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION.

THANKS.

SAY SAFE AND STAY ALERT.

Funders

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