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Moderna, Pfizer vaccine trials were the ‘highest of quality’: vaccine expert

Yahoo Finance’s Julie Hyman, Brian Sozzi, and Myles Udland discuss the COVID-19 vaccine rollout with Dr. Reynold Panettieri, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Professor of Medicine and advisor to the GERM ETF.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: All right, let's turn to the latest vaccine developments. As I mentioned, about two million folks in the United States have gotten their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, whether it be the Pfizer BioNTech version or the Moderna version. So what comes next now in terms of vaccine deployment? We're joined by Dr. Reynold Panettieri. He is Professor of Medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, he's advisor to the GERM ETF, and he's also a principal investigator on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine trial.

Doctor, thank you so much for being here, and I want to ask you, first of all, about that last item, and I know you were an investigator on some of the other trials as well. What does that mean exactly? For those of us not familiar, what does being an investigator on these trials mean, and what have you been seeing with the Johnson & Johnson trial?

DR. REYNOLD PANETTIERI: Sure. Well, good day. We were one of the sites for the Moderna trial. That finished months ago. And the J&J trial just finished, just finished the week before the break. So that was around the 21st of December. What that means-- As a site investigator, you are in charge of monitoring the participants in the study, making sure the study is is being ethically and effectively run. You are enrolling patients, and then we will follow patients for two years. These are very long studies to demonstrate that the vaccine is actually working over a period of time. That's what the site investigator is. That's what Rutgers was doing with the two vaccine trials.

MYLES UDLAND: And so doctor, as you think about the beginning of this rollout period-- and I know there's been a lot of concern about the potential side effects from the vaccine. And certainly when you vaccinate tens of millions of people in a very short amount of time, lots of things are going to happen. How confident are you, how pleased are you, I guess we should say, with what's happened the initial two weeks of the rollout here? And are you concerned about uptake from the general public, where I think there is still a fair bit of skepticism around some of these treatments?

DR. REYNOLD PANETTIERI: So let's level set. There has never been a vaccine developed so swiftly as what has been done with the mRNA vaccines, that is the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines. It was truly warp speed, going from a time when we didn't even understand the genetics of the virus to the development of a vaccine all within one year. Typically that takes eight to nine years.

So you might say, well, you must be cutting corners. That's not the case. When we were involved in the Moderna trial and in the J&J trial, it was the highest of quality that participants were enrolled and followed. The sites that were involved in the J&J trial, that was 200 sites globally. We were actually second-highest recruiting in the world at Rutgers, with some 840 participants, but we were very careful monitoring any and all side effects.

Now, I can tell you when I have family, friends, colleagues, and my own patients ask me, well, which vaccine should I get? Get the vaccine you can get. That's the number one answer. And then, well, what about the safety? We went to quickly. There are going to be an enormous amounts of side effects. I can tell you today with millions of people getting the vaccine there is yet to be one death. However, let's take into account what COVID-19 did to that same two million people, and you'll find hundreds, hundreds of deaths. So you weigh the benefit and risk. For me, I'm getting vaccinated this week. I look forward to it. I think it's a way to establish a new normal, very important for us.

JULIE HYMAN: Doctor, at the same time, I mean, obviously the message is a pretty unified one from the medical community. Do you think the framing is correct, though? I mean, mostly we've heard doctors say, eh, you'll get some side effects, everything's going to be fine. But do you think that the medical community is fully taking into account the concerns that people have around the vaccine? Do you think the reassurance is working?

DR. REYNOLD PANETTIERI: Yeah. You know, I think often, as a provider, we look at the risk-benefit ratio. And in this case, the risk of the side effects versus the benefit is so-- the needle is so in the direction of benefits that, unfortunately, I think many providers are not addressing the concerns of the public. And I think we, as providers, need to do a better job.

There are going to be side effects. There are going to be local side effects-- inflammation and pain. There could be, after the second injection, 24 or 48 hours of not feeling well, fatigue, and malaise, as we say, but that passes. And we recognize, though an adverse effect, it's far less an adverse effect than actually developing COVID-19 pneumonia.

So I think we could, as providers, as physicians caring for patients, be a little more sensitive to the patient's needs, hear their concerns, and assuage the concerns. I mean, it's our job really to do that.

JULIE HYMAN: All right. Well, thank you so much for coming on and talking to our viewers about this important issue. Dr. Reynold Panettieri, professor of medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, advisor as well to the GERM ETF, thank you so much, sir. Appreciate it.

DR. REYNOLD PANETTIERI: Have a good day. Bye.

JULIE HYMAN: You too.