Experts are doing a 'grave disservice' to the public by hyping a COVID-19 vaccine by year's end, Merck CEO says

Public health officials are doing a "grave disservice" to the public when they hype up the potential for a COVID-19 vaccine to be approved and distributed this year, Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier told Harvard Business School

In an interview with Harvard Business School's Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration Tsedal Neeley, PhD, Mr. Frazier discussed his fear that leading the public to believe a vaccine will be available soon will cause people not to take preventative measures such as wearing a mask and social distancing. 

"What worries me the most is that the public is so hungry, is so desperate to go back to normalcy, that they are pushing us to move things faster and faster," Mr. Frazier said. "Ultimately, if you are going to use a vaccine in billions of people, you’d better know what that vaccine does."

He pointed out that in the last 25 years, only seven "truly new" vaccines have been developed worldwide, meaning vaccines that were effective against a pathogen for which there had previously been no vaccine. Merck has developed four out of the seven. 

Mr. Frazier said he believes the fastest vaccine ever brought to the market was when Merck developed the mumps vaccine, which took about four years. 

"We don't have a great history of introducing vaccines quickly in the middle of a pandemic. We want to keep that in mind," he told Dr. Neeley.

He also pointed out that scientists have been trying to develop an HIV vaccine since the 1980s and have been unsuccessful. In the past, we've also seen vaccines do more harm than good, such as with the swine flu, he said. 

Mr. Frazier also said manufacturing and distribution remain an even bigger challenge than developing a vaccine. 

"We're living in a time of ultra-nationalism where countries want to take whatever is available and say, 'I'm going to use it first in my own population,' rather than using it first in the populations globally that are at the greatest risk," he told Dr. Neeley. 

Also, there are seven and a half billion people on the planet right now, so manufacturing a vaccine at that scale is a huge feat, according to Mr. Frazier. 

"No matter where you are in the world, you should have access to this vaccine because it is a global pandemic. And my view is unless all of us are safe, none of us are safe," he said. 

Mr. Frazier said the most important thing for people to understand is that until there's a vaccine, they are the protection against the spread of the virus by practicing good hygiene, using a mask and social distancing. 

Find the full interview with Mr. Frazier here


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