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Attorney General Ken Paxton to investigate COVID-19 vaccine makers

By James Barragán, The Texas Tribune

Attorney General Ken Paxton to investigate COVID-19 vaccine makers” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Long an opponent of COVID-19 safety mandates, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Monday he will investigate three major pharmaceutical companies for deceptive practices, arguing that they may have misrepresented the effectiveness of vaccines and the likelihood of becoming infected after receiving a vaccine.

Paxton said in a news release that his office would investigate whether “profit motive or political pressure” played a role in any of the “pandemic interventions forced on the public.”

The investigation will also look into the potential manipulation of trial data by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, said Paxton, a fierce opponent of mandates on lockdowns, vaccinations and masking prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If any company illegally took advantage of consumers during this period or compromised people’s safety to increase their profits, they will be held responsible,” he said in a statement.

“If public health policy was developed on the basis of flawed or misleading research, the public must know. The catastrophic effects of the pandemic and subsequent interventions forced on our country and citizens deserve intense scrutiny, and we are pursuing any hint of wrongdoing to the fullest,” Paxton said.

In a statement, Pfizer spokesperson Sharon Castillo defended the company’s practices, saying “regulatory agencies across the world have authorized the use of our COVID-19 vaccine.”

“These authorizations are based on robust and independent evaluation of the scientific data on quality, safety and efficacy, including our landmark phase 3 clinical trial,” Castillo wrote. “Data from real-world studies complement the clinical trial data and provide additional evidence that the vaccine provides effective protection against severe disease.”

The COVID vaccines, she added, “have saved millions of lives, tens of billions of dollars in health care costs, and enabled people worldwide to go about their lives more freely.”

Moderna and Johnson & Johnson did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 672 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were given in the United States between December 14, 2020 and March 1, 2023, with rare adverse effects.

Deaths after vaccination also have been rare, and the CDC stresses that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the known and potential risks.

“COVID-19 vaccination remains the most effective way to prevent SARS-CoV-2–associated serious illness, hospitalization, and death,” the CDC said in January. “All persons, including those who are immunocompromised and their household members and close contacts, should stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccination, and receive the updated (bivalent) booster dose, when eligible.”

Paxton said the pharmaceutical companies had “record-making financial success” in recent years that came largely as a result of the products they developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that “vested interest” in the success of their products required “aggressive investigation” into whether the companies made decisions to profit from the pandemic.

Paxton said his office would investigate if the pharmaceutical companies went awry of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and would look at activity that would fall outside of the legal immunity granted to manufacturers of the COVID-19 vaccine. He said he aims to produce documents that would help shed light on the decision making over COVID-19 precautions taken by the federal government.

He said pharmaceutical companies have had “unprecedented political power and influence over public health priorities” since COVID-19 was first discovered and should be held accountable if they took “dangerous, illegal actions to boost their revenues.”

Dr. David “Davey” Smith, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health at University of California San Diego Health, said the emergency authorization the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave COVID-19 vaccines in late 2020 had a lower standard of proof than the traditional route for authorization. He said, however, that such approval was given with the caveat that scientific study must continue on the treatments.

Since the vaccines received emergency authorization, Smith said, “the evidence is very clear that it is very effective in preventing serious illness from COVID-19.”

Smith also said the emergency use was granted based on the vaccine’s ability to prevent serious illness after contracting an infection, not on its ability to prevent the disease or transmission of the disease altogether.

“You can get an infection and you don’t die from it or get hospitalized from it,” he said. “The FDA thinks that’s a win.”

Paxton’s investigation into the vaccine’s efficacy goes against the claims of his political ally, former President Donald Trump, who as recently as January dismissed claims about potential safety concerns with the COVID-19 vaccines and defended the government’s use of emergency authorization for the vaccine.

“I was able to get something approved that, you know, that has proven to have saved a lot of lives,” Trump said in an interview on the conservative podcast “The Water Cooler.” “Some people say that I saved 100 million lives worldwide.”

Pressed by podcast host David Brody about whether he had concerns that the vaccines were not as safe as the medical community had initially said, Trump said that reports of people having issues with the vaccine are “relatively small numbers.”

In December 2020, as Trump was still contesting the results of the presidential election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden, his administration was touting the administration’s delivery of a “safe and effective vaccine.”

In the aftermath of the vaccine’s production and widespread distribution, Paxton fought local and federal policies aimed at controlling the COVID-19 virus’ spread in public. He sued the Biden administration for requiring large businesses to mandate vaccines for their employees and also filed suit against multiple Texas school districts for attempting to require masks in school.

Paxton tested positive for COVID-19 in January 2022. At the time, his office did not say whether he’d been vaccinated for the disease.

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