Francis Collins Responds to COVID Vaccine Skeptic

Francis Collins Responds to COVID Vaccine Skeptic

Michael Zimmerman, the Founder and Executive Director of the The Clergy Letter Project, has written an article titled, “Why I’ll not be Taking a Covid-19 Vaccine — and I’m a Scientist.”  The Clergy Letter Project is an organization that was founded to show that numerous clergy from a variety of denominations have embraced evolutionary theory and find it harmonious with their religious faith. The Clergy Letter Project is an endeavor designed to demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible and to elevate the quality of the debate of this issue.
It is a favorite sister site to BioLogos, so BioLogos founder, Dr. Francis Collins, who is a physician and geneticist known for spearheading the Human Genome Project and for his landmark discoveries of disease genes, and is now the director of the National Institutes of Health, was quite dismayed and wrote a rejoinder to Zimmerman’s article on the BioLogos site entitled “Francis Collins Responds to COVID Vaccine Skeptic”.

Zimmerman’s problem with the developing vaccine is that he is afraid politics will triumph over science in the vaccine’s release. He is concerned because of the Trump administration’s meddling with the CDC and FDA, that a vaccine will be rushed out that either isn’t safe or isn’t effective just to help Trump’s re-election campaign. Zimmerman says:

I can only conclude that the leadership of both agencies have been thoroughly corrupted and are acting for political rather than scientific reasons.

What else can anyone believe when the CDC changed its guidelines for opening schools upon the direction of the president?

What else can anyone believe when the FDA commissioner granted emergency authorization for the use of convalescent plasma despite remarkably limited data supporting such a decision and then lied about what the data actually indicate after pressure from the president?

What else can anyone believe when the CDC, after hearing the president demand that Covid-19 testing be slowed down, rewrote its guidance for testing saying that asymptomatic individuals, even those in close contact with people who have tested positive, should not be tested?

What else can anyone believe when these actions, as well as so many other recent actions, are attacked by virtually all in the scientific community as being scientifically and medically unsound?

Collins responded that the “…vaccine approval process will have to be transparent for all to see — that has already been guaranteed.” He urges Zimmerman to withhold judgement until the data is out. Collins says:

Why would you prejudge the outcome now? Are you allowing your own scientific judgment to be overcome by the current political tumult, and granting a victory to the forces of irrationality?
Please reconsider. Righteous indignation is one of my favorite emotions too, but sometimes it needs to be scrutinized. Many people depend on you and the Clergy Letter Project to bring a faithful blend of scientific reason and God’s love to a hurting world. Does this stance fit with that? Prayerfully consider what God would expect of you at a time like this. Lives are at stake.

Zimmerman wrote back and thanked Collins for his gracious but blunt letter but said:

Where we disagree, however, is in the critical statement that you made in your next paragraph. You wrote that “the vaccine approval process will have to be transparent for all to see — that has already been guaranteed.” If only that were to come to pass. I don’t mistrust you, those who report to you and all of the bench scientists who are working so hard. I do mistrust the current administration and those in power at the FDA and the CDC who have demonstrated that they are unwilling to pay attention to the data, to fully share data informing their decisions, and to tell the truth. I mistrust the president and those who report directly to him to do what’s in the best interest of the American people – indeed, the people of the world.

Collins then replied:

Thanks for your rapid response. I hear you. But be careful that you don’t end up hoping and praying for the vaccine to arrive after January 20 — when an earlier scientifically rigorous result would have potentially saved many lives. I am totally comfortable with you expressing your deep concern, but I would ask you (and by extension your readers) to keep minds open until you see the actual data on safety and efficacy. I believe it will ultimately be impossible to keep that out of public view.

It is an interesting and respectful exchange between two credentialed scientists who are both Christians on a very important, even vital, topic. I have high degree of respect for Francis Collins and am somewhat encouraged that he believes the vaccine approval process is sufficiently transparent to assure the public will be well served. He is in a position to know, and I don’t doubt that if he discerned a problem he wouldn’t hesitate to go public about it. Still…

I have to give weight to Zimmerman’s concerns. There seems to be little doubt that the CDC caved to presidential pressure to change its guidelines to school reopening. Even more problematic was when the CDC rewrote its guidance for testing saying that asymptomatic individuals, even those in close contact with people who have tested positive, should not be tested.

Bottom line: although I trust Francis Collins, I do not trust Donald Trump to act in the best interests of the American public. If a vaccine comes out before the election I will not be first in line to try it. If a vaccine comes out after the election and Trump is re-elected, I still will not be first in line to try it.

What do you think?

66 thoughts on “Francis Collins Responds to COVID Vaccine Skeptic

  1. Though keeping masked up through flu season (like Asian countries have done since SARS) will also help when it comes to colds & flue transmission.


  2. Updates:

    Yesterday I had to phone in and pick up a dinner order because of a DoorDash webpage screwup. First time I’ve been inside an eatery since lockdown Mar 20th. (Depending on Grubhub, DoorDash, and drive-thru pickup.)The BBQ place (Blake’s Place in E Anaheim, very good place) was open for in-house dining primarily using their outdoor patio (extended by a cordoned-off adjacent section of parking roofed over with tarps) as well as takeout and pickup. I’m seeing this with a lot of surviving restaurants jury-rigging outdoor dining areas.

    Had to enter the place to pay and pick up, but was inside not more than two minutes total and everyone was masked up (though some of the customers not all that well).. Since the vast majority of COVID transmissions have been indoors, this should cut the effective transmission rate.

    Also this morning my church had an online announcement that they would be opening Phase 2 by moving the small-attendance daily Masses back indoors (with masks required and spacing enforced) while keeping the higher-attendance weekend Masses outdoors. They are also adding more Masses to the weekend schedule to divide/reduce the attendance numbers per Mass for the more attended weekend ones.

    Also, hand sanitizer dispensers seem to have become universal at all entrances, both BBQ place and church. (Keeping them filled, however, is a challenge.).

    More anecdotal evidence that keeping Vitamin D levels up seems to give some protection; I’d keep taking at least 2000 IU (50 micrograms) a day minimum, with a maximum of 4-5000 (100-125 mikes). (Personally, I’ve been on 5000 IU a day for a pre-existing Vit D deficiency (nerd scurvy) for the past few years.) If you’re dark-skinned, you want to go for the top end (4-5000) because the darker your skin, the less Vit D your body produces and the more prone you are to deficiency. Same if you’re overweight, as Vit D is stored in body fat and the more fat you have, the more Vit D will be tied up there instead of getting into your bloodstream. This might be a factor in why COVID hits dark-skinned and overweight people harder. For Vit D information, my main source is the “Dr John Campbell” channel on YouTube; there is also a video or two at the “MedCram” channel.


  3. Because any “Thank You President Trump” Vaccine rolled out as an October Surprise will be “The Propaganda Numbers”. Same dynamic as Russia’s “Sputnik Pyat” vaccine. The Reality of Vaccinology is not so neat and politically convenient.


  4. learning about the whole anti-vaxxer thing would be a beginning as it ranges into the deep conspiracy stuff big time

    Another corollary of “YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!”

    As well as (like YEC, the Mark of The Trump, and HydroxychloroQ-Anon) becoming a Litmus Test of your Salvation.


  5. There is some indication that the common-cold coronavirii might give a partial immunity to COVID. Not in the sense you’re immune to COVID but it won’t hit you as hard as it normally would have.Like Vitamin D, masking up, and keep everything well-ventilated, these days you go for anything that might give you an edge against the virus.


  6. Also that the severity of your case might depend on how big a “viral load” you were initially infected with. The more virus particles in that dose, the more severe your symptoms. Statistical studies of one cruise ship where masks were passed out to all passengers after some tested positive and that Tyson meat-packing plant which also required masks indicated mild to NO symptoms in around 90% of the positives instead of the usual 20-40% rate and a hospitalization/death rate of a bit less than half the usual amount.


  7. I do know that around the end of January I had an anomalous “flu”. Woke up one morning with moderate fever and coughing; sore upper chest/bronchitis. Fever broke within a day or two, but bronchitis symptoms (chest soreness and coughing) hung on for three-four months. At the time I thought it was another bout of bronchitis like I had a couple years before; had to reactivate an albuterol inhaler prescription from that last time.

    Then I found that a LOT of people had something simiar to that around the same time. This was the middle of flu season, so everyone thought it was some weird flu variant until COVID hit the big time.


  8. Smart. Be wary of politicians, big pharma, big advertising pressures, big money putting pressure on scientists who guard our nation’s health . . . there is HISTORY to learn from: this story may encourage you, if the ‘right’ hasn’t destroyed your faith in our country totally:

    “One month after Dr. Kelsey was hired, the NDA for a drug called Kevadon, or thalidomide as it is better known, arrived at the FDA offices. The applicant was William S. Merrell Inc. of Cincinnati, an American pharmaceutical company with plans to manufacture thalidomide under licence from Chemie Grünenthal, a family-owned West German company. As it turned out, Grünenthal had a record of rushing bad and inadequately tested drugs to market. The company claimed it was impossible to overdose on the drug. This claim was untrue: Taken in syrup form, thalidomide killed laboratory animals, but Merrell kept quiet about these results. There was another bonus: Thalidomide was not addictive, or so they said.

    The NDA rules required a decision from the FDA within 60 days. Merrell was so confident of speedy approval that it planned a massive marketing campaign for the beginning of March, 1961, and began to stockpile supplies:

    (the story gets worse:,tragedy%20that%20occurred%20in%20Canada.


  9. then, Rick Ro., you need to find out more about ‘the right’ and some of the incredible conspiracy theories that voters on the right have selectively bought into . . . .

    there is a whole world of stuff out there awaiting you on the ‘right’ . . . . most of it is of the ‘birther’ calibre, but some of it is wacko crazy ‘Q’ conspiracy theory stuff

    I won’t promise you will enjoy learning about it, but you will begin to understand the ‘difference’ between people who don’t trust trump and people who fell into conspiracy theories big time . . .
    and vive la difference !

    learning about the whole anti-vaxxer thing would be a beginning as it ranges into the deep conspiracy stuff big time


  10. +1

    Yep, not the same at all.

    We “liberals” think the Administration should hire competent adults, put them in charge of technical things, and otherwise leave them alone – which has been ROUGHLY the norm for decades under Administrations of differing stripes.


  11. I and most liberals I know were ready to step up to the front line for vaccination, until we recently saw how the White House had corrupted the agencies involved in its development. Our trust was given, and then stomped to bits by the Trump administration. We don’t trust Lucy to hold the football, we know that she’s acting in bad faith.


  12. Okay, if Eeyore is allowed to call my original post an oversimplification, certainly I’m allowed to cry foul regarding this line:

    “… the Right is against it because if you take it it’ll turn you into an alien lizard like Queen Elizabeth…”



  13. Did you see there are reports of some evidence that coronavirus may have been making people sick in the LA area as early as a few days before Christmas? Based on a study of a big spike in cases of illness with COVID-like symptoms in the LA area near the end of last year, even before reports of the Wuhan outbreak were circulating.


  14. Only Evangelical Christians trust our government under its Divinely-Anointed one-man “administration”.


  15. Rick the difference is that the Right is against it because if you take it it’ll turn you into an alien lizard like Queen Elizabeth, and the liberals are against it because the production process has been corrupted by an incompetent. Not exactly the same.


  16. No way am I letting THIS government/administration inject me with anything (at least not before the election, or even the end of the year). There, I fixed it for you.


  17. P.S. “Thank You President Trump” Vaccine = Amerikansky Sputnik Pyat?

    Russia’s announcement of their “Sputnik 5” vaccine has been met with a lot of skepticism, even among Russian rank-and-file. The belief is that they cut too many corners to get it out FAST. (And the truthiness of previous and current Russian Official Pronouncements doesn’t help.)

    The two Chinese vaccines going Phase 3 — who knows? Chinese Government also likes to keep their cards close to their chest, and the urban legends/conspiracy stuff about how they created the virus in the first place also does not build confidence.


  18. I would trust Canada’s government with this, and the UK’s and a good number of other countries, but not our government under this administration.


  19. Production and stockpiling is already underway for the Stage 3 trial contenders. It’s a big risk if the specific vaccine fails Stage 3, but the advantage is if it works they’ll already have the production lines underway and an initial ready stockpile and won’t have to take more time to “spin up production”.


  20. Big Pharma already has a black eye in the eyes of the public; the Big Nine want to make sure the lack of confidence doesn’t get any worse.


  21. I dunno. I don’t think either of them are totally right. I’ll watch and wait. Right now, it looks like even big pharma is pushing back against rushing into anything, and that is good. Also, while this administration surely is corrupt and I don’t trust them one bit, it is more difficult than it may seem to corrupt every corner of every institution and company, especially down to the people actually doing the real work. We still have good people working on solutions for the right reasons and with the right motives. They just don’t make the headlines and probably don’t want to.

    So I’m not going to jump to conclusions. I’ll wait and see how the various parties behave and what they say. After 57 years on the planet, I think I’ll be able to tell if they’re lying or rushing it or whatever.


  22. The Oxford Vaccine’s hit a snag with one possible severe illness in the Stage 3 trials; they’ve halted the trial to investigate. I’m told that this is normal for a lot of Stage 3 trials.


  23. After the requirement to send all COVID statistic numbers to Trump Tower DC (formerly the White House) instead of the CDC, assume ALL American COVID stats are Propaganda Numbers.

    And the “THANK YOU PRESIDENT TRUMP!!!” Vaccine this October (Surprise) also comes under suspicion.


  24. And his base will Believe every word of it to Prove Their Loyalty.
    The “Two Plus Two Equals Five” Loyalty Test.


  25. The Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation applied to epidemiology.
    “Who cares about Them? I’M SAVED!

    Same dynamic, different application.


  26. Currently the Rt in my state is around .8 i.e. five COVID-infected will infect four others. If this stays the course, we should be seeing local cases keep dropping, but it’s about the time of year for schools to reopen (and their accompanying superspread events).


  27. > what manufacturer

    Can spin up production in under 50 days? Not to mention logistics and distribution?

    I work in the material handling and logistics industry; and “No Way No How Not Possible”.


  28. > Then time line just isn’t there

    Agree; we have 54 days. That’s not much time.

    Immediately prior to the election however I guarantee you he will announce that there is a vaccine. Which will be nonsense. but he’ll say it anyway.


  29. Wearing masks isn’t a big deal.

    Once the spread can be tempered by partially effective vaccines and more effective treatment the delta of it’s impact on high and low compliant (low and high defiant) places is going to become more pronounced.


  30. My eldest is working at the institution where they are working on Canada’s vaccine, although she is not working on it. Canada’s approach had been measured, sticking to the rules and the program, refraining from pomposity and rushing to the press. I’d trust our program.


  31. Funny how the liberals and the right seem aligned on this issue. On one hand, we have people saying “I don’t trust the government to inject me with anything” and you people on the other side saying “No way am I letting the government inject me with anything.”

    Every now and then you just gotta laugh.


  32. I note that even when the vaccine comes out certain people should get it first since it will take time to get everyone vaccinated.

    BTW I note one reason that we have had no vaccine against a corona virus is that either the disease caused was so mild (the corona viruses among the many viruses that cause common colds) or were eradicated from the human population before a vaccine could be developed. The one big exception I can think of is MERS-CoV which is relatively slow spreading among humans (about 2200 known human cases since 2012, though pretty deadly, 1 in 3 dying) and a vaccine is under development for it and being trialed (another is being tested for camels which have been known to carry and pass it to humans).


  33. “A group of nine leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies pledged on Tuesday to only seek approval for Covid-19 vaccines demonstrated to be safe and effective, an apparent attempt to provide public reassurance despite the widely held view that the Covid-19 vaccine development process is politically tainted.”

    IOW, the CEOs essentially told Trump “We’re not going to play Al ng with your rush to a vaccine just because it would be convenient for you.”


  34. Case counts of this seem to be in the single digits. More date is needed to draw any conclusions.

    Like catching AIDS from a toilet seat or COVID from a grocery delivery, these could very well be “Got the Golden BB” outliers.

    Some of the “reinfections” seem to be non-infectious viral residue giving too-sensitive PCR tests false positives.

    One appears to have been reinfection with a different strain of COVID, but in that case the reinfection was much milder than the original, indicating some residual immunity between strains.

    Problem is COVID data can be chaotic and confusing, even to the point ofcontradicting itself, with FACT highly dependent on whether the “expert” has a (D) or an (R) along with his name, a MAGA hat, or Q-Anon tattoo.


  35. I am not a USian so won’t have the option of being a guinea pig for the US version, even I wanted to. I suspect that even if introduced is rushed it won’t actually kill you: the questionable bit will be whether it will work.
    The “Oxford” Covid-19 vaccine being developed in the UK (and internationally) looks like being submitted to the (UK) regulators for approval by the end of the year, but that still means it won’t be ready until early 2021. That’s still spectacularly fast for a vaccine. I personally would trust the UK regulators, if only because that nitwit Johnson doesn’t have the same power a US President has to mess with them. I would certainly want to be first in line for it if possible if it is approved, and, on the assumption that this isn’t another thing they will turn out to have SNAFUed one good thing our government has done is pre-ordered shedloads of doses so I anticipate it being reasonably promptly available (and free – go NHS!).


  36. Antibody immunity seems to last a few months.
    (short-term immunity)
    T-cell immunity would last for years at the minimum.
    (long-term immunity)
    Fading antibody immunity is actually pretty common in vaccines. As long as the T-cells have been programmed by the vaccine to recognize the virus, they will start cranking out antibodies as needed.


  37. Judging from the past history of such efforts, which is all we have to judge by, it will be virtually impossible for a vaccine to be produced and vetted before the November election. These protocols take years. And what manufacturer is going to run the risk of releasing a poorly tested vaccine given the chance of being sued back to the stone age? I suspect these folks are smelling Trump’s blood in the water and they’re not going to sacrifice themselves to save him.


  38. a vaccine that has been rushed to the public in time for the Nov. 3 election.

    That seems to be delusional.

    So far they all seem to require a booster after 30 days. And many of the trials are not even 1/2 full. Then they have to see if the people without the placebo get sick less often. Which means more than a week or two of daily life.

    Then time line just isn’t there. Even if I got mine in the first week of August as initially planned that would mean no booster till first week of Sept. Then 60 or more days in the wild and compare results and side effects. With doctor visits tossed in.

    Just not gona happen.


  39. My wife and I have said from the git go that we will not be first in line for a vaccine that has been rushed to the public in time for the Nov. 3 election. I would like to see polls regarding the willingness of Trump supporters to roll up their sleeves to take a rushed to market vaccine prior to the election.

    Trump and his handlers have done great damage to the public’s confidence in our government medical institutions; even more so now with the confirmation of our suspicions that he has been lying all along about the seriousness of COVID-19. Sadly, I doubt this will change the minds of most of his supporters.

    Yesterday’s line of the day: “It’s on tape, Kayleigh.”


  40. I had a similar thought. If I get the vaccine and am safe I will still need to be sure that I don’t do things that will encourage others to copy me who might not have had the vaccine.


  41. What I’m more worried about is that even a good vaccine is unlikely to be 100% effective, but having a vaccine might make people throw caution to the wind and abandon all other precautions because they’re so sick of having to exercise so much willpower each day. There’s likely to be a long period of time even after the vaccine is available when society still needs us all to wear masks and not have giant parties…


  42. I have no trust what-so-ever in the current Administration; nor any of the agencies it oversees, all of which have capitulated to some degree.

    I won’t rush out to get any vaccine, not until reviewed by the subsequent Administration.

    Case counts are low and steadily declining in my county and city. Hot-spots and flare-ups are isolated and occurring exactly where one expects them too. If that trend changes I might be willing to take more risk in our nation’s farce for a health-care system.


  43. There’s some evidence that the length of time you retain immunity to covid-19 might depend on how severe a case you got – if it was very mild, your body doesn’t think the virus is a big deal and won’t remember it for as long.

    A vaccine would be designed to mimic a more severe infection to get your body to react more strongly – e.g. by containing an “adjuvant” that artificially boosts your immune response to the inoculation. (That’s how most vaccines work – the reason your shoulder gets sore and swollen isn’t actually the germ itself, but the adjuvant.)


  44. allegedly short-lived immunity conferred by having contracted (and recovered from) the virus itself?

    Case counts of this seem to be in the single digits. More date is needed to draw any conclusions.

    Flu vaccines are not fool proof for one major reason. There are a dozen or more (maybe a lot more) active viruses floating around at any one time. “Those in charge” try and guess the most common 3 or 4 and make a vaccine for those. If you get exposed to a strain not in the vaccine you will likely get the flu.

    This happened to me Feb 29 this year which made for all kinds of fun as things went wild. By “this” and “fun” I mean I had the flu shot but still got the flu. And when tested for strep and the flu on March 1 both were negative. So I had all kinds of advice on how to live the next week or two due to how much was not yet known about Covid-19. When tested a week later I was negative. In what might have been the first official test in NC.


  45. “How long will immunity to COVID-19 last?

    No one knows. On the plus side, the coronavirus mutates more slowly than flu viruses, whose viral-protein targets change so fast that annual flu shots are needed. So the coronavirus target isn’t moving nearly as fast. But there’s never been an approved coronavirus vaccine, so it’s not clear either how well these vaccines will prevent COVID-19. Keep in mind, too, that immunity may be partial, as it is with the flu shot. Even those vaccinated could fall ill, but experience lesser – and less-dangerous – symptoms.”

    There’s more in the original article, but BLUF is, apparently it will be more like a flu vaccine than a pic vaccine – it won’t be 100% immunity.


  46. What I would like to know is whether vaccines are expected to have any longer lasting effect than the allegedly short-lived immunity conferred by having contracted (and recovered from) the virus itself?


  47. I agree with you, Mike. Neither I nor my wife will be among the first in line to try any vaccine as long as the Trump administration is in command, and that’s a shame, because we are both in multiple high risk categories and need a good vaccine to come along as soon as possible. But there is no trust. None. The Liar-in-Chief and his co-conspirators have made sure of that.


  48. although I trust Francis Collins, I do not trust Donald Trump to act in the best interests of the American public. If a vaccine comes out before the election I will not be first in line to try it. If a vaccine comes out after the election and Trump is re-elected, I still will not be first in line to try it.

    Very mixed feelings on all of this. And today’s news[1] doesn’t help with the decision either. Personally I’ve signed up for a trial. So has a friend. We are both in the second half of our 60s. He retired. I’m still doing tech support for companies and “get to” go out into offices and home and keep things going for people. So I’m essential.

    I was supposed to go in during the first week in August to get my physical and shot[2]. Got a call the evening before to not come in, “study on hold for technical reasons.” My friend was supposed to go in mid August and got called an hour before his appointment and told he was also on hold.

    Friend got his shot a week ago. I’m still on hold. Based on news reports my trial is trying to find more ethnically diverse people than me, the old white guy.

    Anyway, I’m willing to take a vaccine that the outsiders say is safe. And from what I see the two trials we have bumped into are really doing it right.

    [1] Trump on the record back in March knowing this was going to be bad but publicly saying “no big deal” as he’s all about happy talk.
    [2] Double blind studies mean you don’t know if you’re getting a trial vaccine or saline. My friend said he had a mile reaction and plans to get an anti-body test after his booster in a few weeks to see if he has the real shot and a reaction to it.


  49. Agree – after hearing the Woodward tapes, it would be foolish to trust Donald Trump on anything related to the pandemic


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