FDA opens private Covid vaccine meetings to the public in bid to gain trust as Trump pressures for fast approval

The FDA took the unusual step Thursday in opening to the public a routine meeting with an advisory group that’s weighing in on approving the coronavirus vaccine as the agency battles public concerns about its safety as well as political pressure from President Donald Trump to approve it before the Nov. 3 election.



a person in a blue shirt: A health worker injects a person during clinical trials for a Covid-19 vaccine at Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida.


© Provided by CNBC
A health worker injects a person during clinical trials for a Covid-19 vaccine at Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida.

The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, an outside group of researchers and physicians who are advising the Food and Drug Administration on whether to approve a Covid-19 vaccine, debated the standards needed to ensure a Covid-19 vaccine is safe and effective in a meeting broadcast on YouTube and C-SPAN. Those are key questions among medical experts who worry the U.S. will approve a vaccine before it has been adequately tested.

Officials at the meeting Thursday said the public forum was “critical” to build public trust and confidence in the development of potential vaccines, which are being developed in record time. FDA officials promised that any vaccine would undergo rigorous testing before being distributed to the public.

“Vaccine development can be expedited. However, I want to stress that it cannot, and must not, be rushed,” said Dr. Marion Gruber, director of FDA’s Office of Vaccines Research and Review, adding the agency would not lower its standards.

Trump has pushed the FDA to approve a drug in time to distribute by the Nov. 3 election — a daunting task even his closest advisors have said is near impossible.

“I think we should have it before the election, but frankly the politics gets involved and that’s okay. They want to play their games, it’s going to be right after the election,” Trump said in a video he posted on Twitter on Oct. 7. “The FDA has acted as quickly as they’ve ever acted in history. There’s never been a time, and no president’s ever pushed them like I’ve pushed them either, to be honest.”

The agency is approving drugs “in a matter of weeks” that used to take years, he added.

Video: Dr. Patel on how the White House should be dealing with the virus outbreak: ‘This should go well beyond what’s standard’ (MSNBC)

Dr. Patel on how the White House should be dealing with the virus outbreak: ‘This should go well beyond what’s standard’

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Four drugmakers backed by the U.S. are still conducting their late-stage trials, and medical experts don’t expect to see trial data needed for FDA authorization until later this month at the earliest.

Because of the pandemic, U.S. health officials and researchers have been accelerating the development of vaccine candidates by investing in multiple stages of research even though doing so could be for naught if the vaccine ends up not being effective or safe.

The FDA, under pressure from the White House, has faced skepticism from medical experts that the vaccine approval

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A UPS exec reveals how the pressures of the pandemic can make drone deliveries a reality as it starts flying medical supplies, PPE, and medicine



a man riding on the back of a red building: UPS has launched two health care-related drone delivery trials during the pandemic. Courtesy of UPS


© Courtesy of UPS
UPS has launched two health care-related drone delivery trials during the pandemic. Courtesy of UPS

  • UPS, along with other delivery and logistics companies, is in a race to launch regular, commercial drone delivery systems.
  • In the past few months, UPS has begun pilot programs with CVS and a major hospital system, using drones to make deliveries and transport critical supplies.
  • In an exclusive interview with Business Insider, UPS’ VP of Advanced Technologies explained how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the use cases for drones.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The logistics industry has been buzzing about drone delivery for years, but aside from a few high-profile pilot programs and conceptual tests, the tech has failed to materialize as a real-world solution for moving goods.

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But drones are steadily coming closer to serving a practical use, according to Bala Ganesh, head of the Advanced Technologies Group at UPS.

“What we are right now in the process of, as we work through the integration pilot program with the FAA, is turn[ing] the corner to get to a more sustainable operation,” Ganesh told Business Insider during an exclusive interview at the IGNITION: Transportation summit this week. “What we’ve been in so far has been a test and learn journey.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the urgency of drone delivery — and highlighted its potential.

“The initial step for drones would be in this critical health care slash other industries that really require something urgently,” Ganesh said. “As the technology becomes more mature and costs go down,” he said, drones could be integrated into more routine purposes and deliveries.

UPS has launched two health care-related trials during the pandemic. One, at the Villages retirement community in Florida, delivers prescription medication to residents from a nearby CVS. The other, at the Wake Forest Baptist health system in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, offers fast shipping of time-sensitive medical supplies and PPE between the health system’s central campus and its other locations.

A key challenge to taking drone deliveries mainstream is the complex approvals needed from the FAA, as well as methods to avoid nearby air traffic. That, coupled with the difficulties of navigating around tall and dense development, makes it likely that drone deliveries will start out in rural and suburban areas, Ganesh said.

One of the most interesting use cases the company has explored, Ganesh said, is a “driver assist” system, in which each time the driver makes a delivery stop in a rural location, they launch the drone from the top of their truck and have it make the next delivery on the route. It would effectively double the number of deliveries a driver can make in a given time.

While drone delivery in cities is still something UPS plans to develop, that will likely come later, Ganesh said.

“There’s a lot of ideas” to solve the challenge of urban drone delivery, Ganesh said. “I’m sure that time will come,” he added, “but it may not

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