Recent politicization of the COVID-19 vaccine development and approval process has led to a concerning loss of confidence in vital governmental institutions. Each day that goes by, the picture seems to grow darker. Politicians criticize scientists without cause. Pundits decry public health measures that have been proven to save lives. People increasingly lose faith in the people and institutions that have been designed to protect them from harm. A recent poll suggests that fewer than 1-in-10 Americans have “a great deal of trust in the FDA or pharmaceutical companies to look out for their interests.”
This is a dangerous trend. Everyone should be able to trust their medicines—including vaccines—are safe, effective, and quality-assured and that they have been approved, made, distributed, and delivered based on sound scientific principles, and not subject to political interference. The people who do the work of keeping medicines safe and assuring their quality should also be free of undue influence.
If we don’t address the underlying causes of Americans’ waning confidence, it could outlast the COVID-19 pandemic and further erode trust in our public health institutions and science in general. Once lost, this trust will be extremely hard to regain.
There is good news—and there are safeguards against misinformation and political interference. Rigorous, systematic, independent, and transparent science generates evidence, and evidence should inform decisions that can help foster trust. USP, in the process of establishing public quality standards and fulfilling its public health mission, adheres to these fundamental principles.
Some have suggested that requiring adherence to USP public quality standards is unnecessary, but USP’s independence—from both government and industry—allows it to remain immune to political influence. USP’s public quality standards for medicines are developed through an open, transparent process—by independent experts from academia, government, industry and other non-governmental organizations. It is open, collaborative, and inclusive—a science-based process that has been critical to building trust in medicines for generations.
The independent, impartial scientific experts who develop public quality standards do so voluntarily, without compensation, underscoring their commitment to public health and their motivation to act in the public’s best interest. These individuals apply their deep scientific knowledge, experience, and insights to the process, and this is what builds trust.
USP’s standards are vital to ensuring the quality of medicines, and quality is foundational for safety—especially for products that you take to treat or prevent disease. USP standards are used by manufacturers and regulators around the world to prevent poor-quality medicines from reaching patients.
Public quality standards may also promote competition and innovation by providing a benchmark of quality, which can make drug development more time- and cost-efficient. In this moment, when speed is important and quality cannot be sacrificed, public quality standards could not be more important.
If we are to end this current public health crisis, we must ignore the politics. We must trust the science.