The CEO of one of America’s largest pharmaceutical companies issued a bleak warning about the prospect of a vaccine for the novel coronavirus by the end of the year, saying lawmakers touting the possibility were doing a “grave disservice to the public.”
Ken Frazier, the CEO of Merck, made the comments in an interview with Harvard Business School last week. He directly targeted politicians who have asserted that a vaccine is around the corner, without naming President Donald Trump, saying such statements were premature and “actually tell the public not to do the things that the public needs to do.”
“What worries me the most is that the public is so hungry, so desperate to go back to normalcy, that they are pushing us to move things faster and faster,” Frazier said during an interview last week with Harvard professor Tsedal Neeley. “But ultimately, if you’re going to use a vaccine in billions of people, you better know what that vaccine does.”
He said that Merck’s most recent vaccine against Ebola took more than five years to produce, saying such research “requires a rigorous scientific assessment.”
“And here we didn’t even understand the virus itself or how the virus affects the immune system,” he continued.
Merck is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world and has been working alongside dozens of other major research groups to develop a vaccine to the coronavirus. Medical officials have stressed that even with social distancing measures, society will only be able to return to a pre-pandemic normal with an appropriate vaccine of therapeutic treatment for those that contract COVID-19.
Trump has repeatedly stressed that a vaccine is not far off, saying this month three efforts “are really, really looking good” and “we think we’re going to have it soon.” The White House has funneled resources into an effort called “Operation Warp Speed” to do so, and while some trials have shown promise, there are still many unanswered questions.
“I think when people tell the public that there’s going to be a vaccine by the end of 2020, for example, I think they do a grave disservice to the public,” Frazier said last week. “I think at the end of the day, we don’t want to rush the vaccine before we’ve done rigorous science. We’ve seen in the past, for example, with the swine flu, that that vaccine did more harm than good.”
“We don’t have a great history of introducing vaccines quickly in the middle of a pandemic,” he added.
Frazier has publicly sparred with the Trump administration before. In 2017, he resigned from one of the president’s business advisory councils after the White House failed to criticize white nationalists in Charlottesville.
“I feel a responsibility to take a stand against extremism,” Frazier said at the time.