U.S. drug companies race to find coronavirus vaccine, Congress concerned about safety and price gouging

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WASHINGTON D.C. (WCMH) — As the race to find a COVID-19 vaccine continues around the world, U.S. drug company executives assured Congress they’re moving quickly and won’t skimp on safety.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, Merck Pharmaceuticals vice president, told Congress speed is not as important as a vaccine that’s safe.

“There will be no safety shortcuts at Merck,” she said.

On Tuesday, leaders of several major drug companies, including Merck, Astra Zeneca, Johnson and Johnson and Moderna updated Congress on their vaccine progress.

“Moderna is about to become one of the first U.S. companies to enter a phase three trial,” said Dr. Stephen Hoge who works for Moderna. “We’re pursuing two promising vaccines.”

While the executives are confident they’ll develop an effective vaccine some lawmakers like Indiana Representative Susan Brooks worry if people will take the vaccine.

“A recent poll showed that as few as 50 percent of people in the United States are committing to receiving one of your vaccines with another quarter wavering,” Brooks said.

Dr. Gerberding said companies are working on public education.

“It really does have to do with grassroots as much as it does top down,” she said.

Illinois Representative Jan Schakowsky says no vaccine developer should make a buck off this emergency.

“Only one company said they were not going to make a profit off the vaccine and that was Johnson and Johnson,” Schakowsky said.

She also called for fair, affordable access.

“We have seen in the past that the pharmaceutical companies have overcharged, have price-gouged,” she said. “So, why in the world would we imagine that they would make it affordable?”

The executives also agreed getting vaccines to those most at risk should be a high priority.

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