Pence attends coronavirus roundtable at UHealth research center

Vice President Mike Pence visits South Florida to discuss COVID-19 vaccine production
Vice President Mike Pence visits South Florida to discuss COVID-19 vaccine production

MIAMI – Vice President Mike Pence and Gov. Ron DeSantis were in South Florida Monday to attend a COVID-19 roundtable at the UHealth Don Soffer Clinical Research Center.

This time, they wore masks and elbow bumped when Gov. DeSantis and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez greeted Vice President Pence when he got off Air Force Two. 

“We are moving at an historic pace,” Pence said. 

Pence’s visit comes the same day as the world’s biggest COVID-19 vaccine study got underway with the first of 30,000 planned volunteers helping to test shots created by the U.S. government -- one of several candidates in the final stretch of the global vaccine race.

There’s still no guarantee that the experimental vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., will really protect.

“There will be no shortcuts, there will be no cutting corners on safety,” said Pence.

The needed proof: Volunteers won’t know if they’re getting the real shot or a dummy version. After two doses, scientists will closely track which group experiences more infections as they go about their daily routines, especially in areas where the virus still is spreading unchecked.

Moderna said the vaccination was done in Savannah, Georgia, the first site to get underway among more than seven dozen trial sites scattered around the country.

“We are amazed and humbled by the number of volunteers who have already stepped forward,” said principal investigator Dr. Susanne Doblecki-Lewis.

The Trump administration is providing a financial backstop shielding vaccine developers from an uncertain marketplace.

"Under Operation Warp Speed we are not waiting to end of clinical trials to produce," said Pence. "We are having companies produce vaccines as we speak and when we make sure they're safe and effective, we'll have them.

To the FDA overseers, Local 10 asked about vaccine distribution, including which patients will be priority, and where.

“Data and science from clinical trials will answer questions you’re asking,” said FDA Commissioner Steve Hahn.  

Several other vaccines made by China and by Britain’s Oxford University began smaller final-stage tests in Brazil and other hard-hit countries earlier this month.

But the U.S. requires its own tests of any vaccine that might be used in the country and has set a high bar: Every month through fall, the government-funded COVID-19 Prevention Network will roll out a new study of a leading candidate -- each one with 30,000 newly recruited volunteers.

The massive studies aren’t just to test if the shots work — they’re needed to check each potential vaccine’s safety. And following the same study rules will let scientists eventually compare all the shots.

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