60 Minutes forgot just one name in their 'backstory' on the vaccines

Citizens across the United States, and indeed the Western world, breathed a modest sigh of relief when, mere days after the election of 2020 was over, Pfizer roused itself to announce the much needed availability of a coronavirus vaccine it announced was shown to be 95% effective. 

This week's 60 Minutes devoted its first of three segments to the "rollout" of the COVID-19 vaccine "backstory," which involves NYC-based Pfizer, of course, as well as smaller German pharma company BioNTech, which in January solicited the partnership of the giant Pfizer in the development of the critically needed vaccine in the face of the largest pandemic since 1918.

We listened several times to the broadcast.  Notably to our ears — we having worked for Pfizer for a number of years and thus having more than the average interest in a story involving a Pfizer triumph — while we heard, exactly once, the presenter of the segment, Bill Whitaker, drop the term "in keeping with Project Warp Speed," the name of President Donald Trump was somehow not mentioned even in passing.  Not even once. 

President Trump was not in the lab, concocting amplifications on molecules used in the development of a viable vaccine.  But his foot on the pedal of urgency is well known and helped produce the remarkable development of not one, but several plausible vaccines against this Chinese-developed agent of death.  Another pharma company, Moderna, has also just gotten the green light from the American FDA for distribution of its vaccine. 

The host, 60 Minutes staffer Bill Whitaker, mentioned several times that though the vaccine was a success story, the "rollout" was at issue, because the modalities needed to deliver the Pfizer vaccine are somewhat arduous for small-town hospitals or out-of-the-way recipients to receive the vaccine.  Refrigeration needs to be steady at -80*F, which omits the many hospitals or clinics that don't have the necessary refrigeration units in their facilities.  The PFE vaccine, unlike the Moderna one, is given in a two-shot: one dose followed, some months later, by the second dose. 

Moderna needs but one shot, and the refrigeration needs are much easier to find and comply with. 

Other pharmaceutical companies, we know, are racing to bring their vaccines to market. 

The distribution lists are to a large extent also hampered by the omission — deliberate for obvious reasons — of testing of clinical trials on children under 16, those older than 85, and pregnant women.  The trials involved 44,000 volunteers from 16 to 85. 

Ethical considerations forbid, in most instances, the endangerment of the young, and pregnant women present a further complication in that although the mother might volunteer for the testing clinicals, she cannot endanger her fetus or fetuses.  In a double-blind study, one control group must be on placebo, which will generally not produce effects expectable from the actual molecule itself. 

To this concern, the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has a number of articles dealing with "trust," as the patient-doctor bond is delicate and crucial to the volunteer's sense of value.  In fact, of this month's 27 articles on the table of contents, a full six, 22.5%, deal with trust issues.  Last month's JAMA also dealt with trust issues as well as ethical considerations as to who should get the drug first, second, and along the line. 

The popular press now reports entirely unwonted controversy over who should get the vaccines and who not, or who last in a long hiccup of recipients. 

These are not ethical considerations, when activists insist on blacks or Hispanics getting first dibs as a "make-good" gesture for prior slights that have zero to do with medications and vaccines.  Health care workers are in the queue, too, as they have sacrificed and lost many during the months since the bruiting of this scourge became known.  No question but that health care "essential workers" need to be immunized. 

But when?  How soon?  What about supplies for second wave tranches?  Other nations are grabbing up the vaccines, too, recall. 

The obvious first recipients have long been posited by common sense, excluding the special pleadings of unfazed and undisciplined complainers and demanders.  The elderly, and those with factors such as comorbidities, claim pride of place, since they are the ones who have been dying soonest and in greatest numbers. 

An example is the unholy deaths of more than 11,000 directly due to New York governor Andrew Cuomo insisting that infected elderly be forced back into homes for the elderly rather than making use of a duly equipped medical ship docked on the Hudson specially brought there by the president commanding the military to outfit the ship, which they did.  And the medical "tent city" set up in Central Park by the Samaritan's Purse organization, also with thousands of beds for the purpose of treating the afflicted.

Cuomo, as is well known, ignored both and sent myriads to their premature deaths, helping to infect thousands of otherwise uninfected elders. 

There is an entire discipline for the past decade set up to assess and emplace patients to receive rationed care, scarce organs, and other medical attentions not easily apportioned.  This field is now a settled discipline in a number of prestigious medical organizations, hospitals, and university teaching arenas.  I have been associated with one such foundation. 

The field is that of now-sizzling bioethics, and doctors and councils are busy deciding who might be first in line to get much needed vaccines.  Thus, a pancreas, perhaps, might go to an otherwise healthy 40-year-old rather than an alcoholic of 80.  Livers might be awarded to jaundiced workers in their 50s as opposed to street people who are younger but addicted to various unprescribed pharmacologic entities. 

Blood factors also matter.  As do susceptibilities and general health. 

The arguments rage on. 

But in the presence of the luxury of vaccines that normally take from five to ten years to develop, it seems just decent to ascribe some of the responsibility of the super-speedy development of these "miracle" vaccines (which take dogged months' long work of 24/7 determination and close to $2 billion on average to generate, if not more, losses being frequent no matter how much is sunk into the lab work and clinical testing) to the president who pushed and cajoled and provided steady encouragement.  Sixty Minutes, not for the first time, forgot to provide a tiny flag of recognition to our 45th president, a man who gets things done — whether he's your favorite smooth talker or not. 

Trump deserves at least that hard earned mention, failing Person of the Year, or the Nobel Prizes he also merited with a tremendous tally of four Middle Eastern accords. 

So.  Not for the first time, 60 Minutes seems short-sheeted on the few seconds needed to just mouth acknowledgment of any Republican.  Especially one named Trump. 

Eyes peeled for parallel treatment for a Democrat, should one occupy the white House in the future.  Don't hold your breath. 

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