Boston 25 News goes ‘Inside Moderna’: From side effects to skepticism to safety

BOSTON — Cambridge-based Moderna has been at the forefront of the race to vaccinate Americans against the Coronavirus pandemic. Whether you already got the company’s shot or you’re skeptical about vaccines in general, Boston 25 News wanted to bring your questions directly to the local company’s leaders for answers.

Boston 25 News anchor Vanessa Welch spent weeks interviewing Moderna leaders, from the president to the scientists who helped make the COVID-19 mRNA breakthrough, to get those answers in a series of reports.

ON SKEPTICISM

Vanessa Welch: “There are still a lot of people who are skeptical of the vaccine, give a 30-second pitch to someone…who hasn’t had the vaccine, isn’t sure they’ll get it.”

Stephen Hoge, Moderna president: “There’s really only two choices: we have vaccines or getting sick. And particularly when we get sick, it’s not just us that get exposed. It’s our loved ones. It’s people we run into in the street.”

ON CONCERNS THAT THE VACCINE WAS RUSHED

Hoge: “We rushed to bring the vaccines forward, we did not rush to review the data and follow the science where it led us, and in that sense, I hope people can have confidence.”

Melanie Ivarsson, Chief Development Officer: “They were run incredibly quickly. But we didn’t cut any corners. So the most important thing is that we protected safety and quality. Normally, one of the reasons that vaccines take such a long time to run the trials is that they’re incredibly large and expensive. You would be making big decisions around investments, ‘Do I want to spend the many millions of dollars?’ Everyone wanted to help us, every wonderful doctor at the clinical side, every ethics committee, everyone we needed to interact with, when we said it’s Moderna running a COVID-19 vaccine study, they were like, ‘Yeah, I’ll look at that this weekend.’ Things that would have taken two weeks to two hours. We only had to look at safety data, we already knew that we could go as quickly as possible and that the investment would be there.”

>>>PREVIOUS: Boston 25′s Vanessa Welch sits down with Moderna president Stephen Hoge

Hamilton Bennett, Senior Director – Vaccine Access & Partnerships: “The FDA was willing to work with us to turn around reviews in two weeks. And that’s what you need to do when you’re facing a global pandemic.”

Welch: “But still some people feel it’s experimental. How do you convince them?”

Hoge: “They really need to hear it from trusted voices, people who they already rely on, their family doctor or people in their community. If we’re really going to make a difference in that hesitancy, which isn’t misplaced, it’s just they need to hear from voices that they trust.”

ON MODERNA’S DECISION TO PAUSE CLINICAL TRIALS TO INCREASE CULTURAL DIVERSITY

Barbara Salami, VP for Digital for Commercial and Senior Leader for mPOWER, Moderna’s Black Employee Resource Group: “They took a very, very difficult, brave decision to stop and make sure that it was truly a balanced trial. [I’m] super excited to be able to take that message to my family, to other communities of color, because it’s really important that they understand that we were part and parcel of the trial.”

ON QUALITY CONTROL AT THE NORWOOD MANUFACTURING FACILITY AS MODERNA PREPARES TO TRIPLE PRODUCTION TO MEET GLOBAL DEMAND

Scott Nickerson Senior VP of U.S. Manufacturing and Global Quality: “We have a large quality assurance and quality control team that ensures that the product that’s going out the door is tested and has the highest quality.”

ON HOW OFTEN WE WILL NEED COVID SHOTS AND/OR BOOSTERS

Hoge: “We think it’s probably annually for the near term. And that’s, in particular, while the virus is evolving and the pandemic is raging.”

ON WHY MODERNA’S SECOND VACCINE HAS A REPUTATION FOR STRONGER SIDE EFFECTS

Hoge: “What we tried to do in designing the dose of the vaccine that we give is we wanted to make sure that we give people the strongest possible immune response after that second dose. And there’s two reasons for that: you want to have really high efficacy and you want it to last a long time.”

Welch: “Does that mean, it’s more effective than some of the other vaccines that don’t have those stronger side effects?”

Hoge: “We think so. We think it will ultimately be seen to be [an] even more effective vaccine. There’s not data on that yet. We can say it’s extremely effective right after you have your first two doses.”

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