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Sign over I-40 in Durham could damage public trust about vaccine process, expert says

The (Raleigh) News & Observer logo The (Raleigh) News & Observer 2020-12-01 Adam Wagner and Virginia Bridges, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)


A sign that appeared over Interstate 40 in Durham this week could damage public trust in the COVID-19 vaccine process, says a Duke University expert.

The sign said “COVID-19 vaccine makers are exempt from liability” and hung from the American Tobacco Trail Bridge Sunday.

Thomas Denney, the chief operating officer of Duke University’s Human Vaccine Institute, told The News & Observer: “It creates this whole concept of vaccine hesitancy and ‘Don’t trust the scientists.’ I think it’s horrible.

“It’s OK to have a dialogue and debate over new vaccines or treatments like this,” Denney continued, “but when you start planting a lot of disparaging things in people’s minds, it takes a lot of time to turn it around.”

To boost public trust in a vaccine, Denney said it is important that public health leaders explain how the development process works and that trials were done the right way. He also said it is important that elected officials and other leaders make it known that they have taken the shot, like Gov. Roy Cooper and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen did with their flu shots this year.

Cynthia Booth, a spokesperson for Durham Parks and Recreation, said a city transportation official received an email around 5 p.m. Sunday requesting the removal of the sign.

City workers were scheduled to take down the sign Monday at 6:30 a.m., but it had already been taken down by that time, Booth said.

“Nobody knows who took it down,” Booth said.

Compensation for serious side effects

The sign’s message is technically correct, Denney said.

“The development and manufacture of vaccines are deemed a public health necessity,” Denney said, “and there’s been other mechanisms that would provide some sort of compensation for serious side effects.”

In the instance of a COVID-19 vaccine, that mechanism will be the federal government’s Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program.

The program has existed since 2010 to provide benefits to people who suffer serious injuries when taking a vaccine or similar medical “countermeasure” to stave off a public health threat, according to the Health Resources & Service Administration, which oversees it. In addition to COVID-19, the program covers countermeasures against Ebola, Zika and even the flu.

Per the HRSA, benefits can include lost employment, lost income or uncovered medical expenses.

Pointing to Phase Three trials from Moderna and Pfizer, Denney said that he trusts the clinical trial process and is confident they don’t come with widespread serious side effects.

“If there were some really serious side effects, I think we would have heard about it by now,” he said.

Fatigue, headache reported in a few people

Pfizer has reported a 95% effectiveness rate based on a trial that enrolled 43,661 people. The company also reported that the most serious safety concerns it found during the trial were fatigue in 3.8% and a headache in 2% of people.

The Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee will meet Dec. 10 to discuss an emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s vaccine.

Moderna announced Monday that based on a clinical trial of 30,000 participants, its vaccine is 94.1% effective against COVID-19.

The company has reported that about 2.7% of people suffered pain around the area where the Moderna vaccine’s first shot was injected. After the second shot, 9.7% of people were fatigued, 8.9% suffered from muscle aches and about 5.2% had joint pain, among other side effects. The FDA vaccine advisory committee will hold a hearing on Dec. 17 to review the Moderna vaccine.

Those side effects do not deter Denney, who said, “I can’t wait to roll up my sleeve for one, and I’m hoping it’s January.”


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