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Sept. 21, 2020, 7:31 a.m. EDT

Philadelphia pediatrician Paul Offit: Prepare to wear masks and socially distance even after getting COVID-19 vaccine

Dr. Paul Offit of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia co-invented the rotavirus vaccine

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By Jaimy Lee


MarketWatch photo illustration/Getty Images, iStockphoto
Dr. Paul Offit.

<STRONG>This interview is part of a series of conversations MarketWatch is conducting with some of the leading voices in the U.S. on the COVID-19 pandemic.</STRONG>

Dr. Paul Offit, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, told friends not to worry about the coronavirus. He went on CNN with the journalist Christiane Amanpour to talk about why the virus that was hitting Asia so hard would not impact the U.S. any more than the flu.

“I am on the record as being dead wrong about this,” Offit said.

His come-to-Jesus moment? When he realized that Americans were not prepared to wear masks and lock down their lives in the same way that people did in countries including China and South Korea.

“I never imagined it would be this bad,” he said. “Looking at what happened in China, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, I was looking at the size of those countries compared with the size of our country, and I thought there is no way this virus is going to be worse than the flu this year.”

‘People now see vaccines as a magic dust that’s about to be sprinkled over this country and make this all go away. It doesn’t work that way.’

Dr. Paul Offit

As a vaccine expert — he helped develop the rotavirus vaccine, which protects young children against infections with the virus that can cause severe diarrhea, and sits on the Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee — Offit is now keeping a close eye on the clinical trials under way for COVID-19 vaccine candidates and the Trump administration’s potential influence on federal agencies closely involved in the pandemic response.

“The government has shown its capacity to impose its will on science-based federal agencies” in the Trump era, he said. “There is a reason to worry.”

MarketWatch: The first thing I want to talk about is the adverse event in the AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN +0.08%   /zigman2/quotes/203048482/delayed UK:AZN -0.15%  trial. What’s your thinking on these types of events, especially for people who are seeing headlines about this but may not understand the ins and outs of the trial process?

Dr. Paul Offit: It’s not unusual to have a clinical trial be put on hold, if there’s a temporal association between receiving a vaccine and having a severe adverse event. Usually the data safety monitoring board says, “This happened. This person got a vaccine. You need to take a look.” So they take a look, and they see whether there’s any other evidence of it in other people who’ve gotten the vaccine. The regulators also look at those data and say that they think that the trial should stop or that they think that this is not a consequence of the vaccine.

There’s so much attention on this particular vaccine. We’re all talking about it. The problem is we don’t really know anything about it. AstraZeneca hasn’t put out anything. Maybe it’s transverse myelitis. Maybe it’s not. You know when you see a detailed clinical description, and until then you really don’t know. It’s not an easy diagnosis to make. Sometimes it’s a diagnosis of exclusion.

MarketWatch: Are you concerned about the speed at which we’re developing vaccines? Does this raise red flags, or is this just a matter of the moment and the science?

Offit: Well, there’s been a lot of money put into this by [the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority], by the World Health Organization, by the Gates Foundation, that has basically taken the risk out of it for at least for some of the smaller pharmaceutical companies. Moderna Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA -0.44%  would not normally do a Phase 3 trial at the same time they would be mass producing their vaccine. They would wait to see whether it works and was safe before they mass produced it. What the government said is, “Look, we’ll take the risk out of it for you. We’ll pay for the Phase 3 trial. We’ll pay for mass production.” That’s good, actually. A vaccine is part of what’s going to get us out of this mess.

On the other hand, you cannot truncate the Phase 3 trials. That is the proof that cannot be short-circuited. What I worry about is something I wrote about with [American oncologist, bioethicist and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress] Zeke Emanuel in an op-ed in the New York Times at the beginning of June: an “October surprise” — that the government would find a way to truncate that trial, declare victory and put it out there. Watching what happened with hydroxychloroquine, watching what happened with convalescent plasma, watching what happens with climate change and the EPA, the government has shown its capacity to impose its will on science-based federal agencies. There is a reason to worry.

But I think there’s so much attention on this, and there’s such skittishness in the American public, that if the American public got a hint that things were being truncated, that academics were standing up and saying, “Well, I wouldn’t get this vaccine,” I don’t think it would work. Convalescent plasma has largely died the death it should have died because you had the [National Institutes of Health and] Tony Fauci saying there’s no evidence that this works.

/zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 52.00
+0.04 +0.08%
Volume: 5.58M
Oct. 23, 2020 4:00p
P/E Ratio
63.41
Dividend Yield
2.63%
Market Cap
$135.95 billion
Rev. per Employee
$342,432
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/zigman2/quotes/203048482/delayed
UK : U.K.: London
7,943.00 p
-12.00 -0.15%
Volume: 999,438
Oct. 23, 2020 4:35p
P/E Ratio
61.14
Dividend Yield
2.72%
Market Cap
£104.24 billion
Rev. per Employee
N/A
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/zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 70.53
-0.31 -0.44%
Volume: 3.74M
Oct. 23, 2020 4:00p
P/E Ratio
N/A
Dividend Yield
N/A
Market Cap
$27.83 billion
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$177,721
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