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The virus doesn’t care about the election

Terry H. Schwadron
·6 mins read
Joe Biden; Donald Trump
Joe Biden; Donald Trump

Joe Biden and Donald Trump Getty Images/Salon

How exactly the coronavirus reads an election calendar is unclear. How the FDA might read scientific reports to announce a timely vaccine by Nov. 1, now that is more understandable because that means that the White House is doing its reelection lean on the data.

Indeed, the political stench is so strong that even federal health officials are downplaying any vaccine announcement before November.

At this moment, following so many weird, disorganized or uncoordinated virus prescriptions from Washington, we have absolutely no confidence that any announcement of a preventive coronavirus vaccine timed with Election Day will be at all effective. Not that such an announcement would be a day too soon, it's just plainly not believable that scientists from multiple competing companies are somehow going to smash through all the medical obstacles to make such an announcement on a specific date.

Hey, even those companies are coming together on a joint statement that they will not obey any political directive for a pre-election announcement, and insist on confirmed scientific successes before making any announcement, The Wall Street Journal. reported.

A CBS News/YouGov survey found 21% of Americans indicated that they would go out and be vaccinated as soon as possible should a no-cost COVID-19 vaccine be released, while 58%f said that they would wait to see how others were affected first.

Of course, were it to happen, it wouldn't mean the pandemic is suddenly over. Getting the vaccine — or more likely multiple vaccines made, distributed across in the United States and the globe and actually working — will take months or more.

But, okay, even if all that were to happen, why would this benefit Donald Trump's re-election — presumably, the reason for the White House to tag this particular date for the announcement of long-awaited success?

The biggest truth here is that in addition to a pandemic problem, we have a trust problem that is even worse.

Throwing our money at a vaccine

At this point, Donald Trump and Joe Biden agree on announced strategies to bring about as early a vaccine as possible, though there is clearly an ocean of difference between them about what actually passes as a realistic plan. But at heart, Team Trump has thrown a ton of money at drug manufacturers to come up with competing vaccine possibilities without a lot of oversight, and there already have been early signs of problems with contracts.

The government has committed to ponying up now towards guarantees that there will be hundreds of millions of doses for distribution — somehow.

Vaccines work if everyone takes them. Partial vaccine coverage in a pandemic just degrades the effectiveness of the results of billions of dollars of development.

We lack a realistic program for who will get the vaccine, when, and what we do if multiple vaccines will be required. Not only do the different companies take different research approaches, but the changing nature of the coronavirus itself also makes any solution a bit of a moving target.

What is unchanging here, whether Trump or Biden wins the election, is a residual trust deficit for a government order to take vaccines. If we can't get people reliably to wear masks or to stand down from off-campus keg parties, what hope is there that Americans will take any vaccine, particularly one that is introduced in a span that is measured by a scheduled election rather than clinical trials?

It's a question that The Daily Beast took up recently: Even skipping over the difficulties in effectiveness and underwritten costs, how does the government actually get people to take it?

Trump himself has been an anti-vaxxer over time, asserting that there is a connection between childhood vaccines and autism, and certainly would oppose any mandate for a vaccine. Governors found armed opponents in their statehouses merely for trying to win support for mask-wearing. Trump seems to be depending these days on Dr. Scott Atlas, who thinks we should halt testing, than on Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birks, the infectious virus chiefs.

A recent poll by NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist found that more than one in three Americans said that they would not choose to get a vaccine, which would leave large portions of the country vulnerable to infection and would make it functionally impossible to eliminate the virus for good.

The best chance likely would be for a legitimate public education program aimed at persuading Americans that it is in their personal interest to take the vaccine. But that's where the trust issue kicks in.

Trust-building?

Speeding the processes involved in drug development and clinical tests to hit artificial is a slap at public trust. Any belief that this administration is leaning on the FDA to approve vaccines by clipping medical safety is bound to cause more problems than it solves. Thus the debate over whether even to believe that a vaccine is pending in the next two months.

Trump owns the coronavirus response. He thinks a spotty path through hyping malaria drugs and overselling the effectiveness of antigen plasma transplants as widespread treatments spell huge success, but the medical world generally has responded with collective gasps at each White House announcement.

The perception that politics is driving this bus rather than Science proves to undercut the trust that will be needed on the day — Nov. 1 or not — on which vaccines truly start to be available. Some scientists and bioethicists want the FDA to forego any emergency authority to declare the early availability of a vaccine just to meet Election Day desires. Trump keeps repeating that a vaccine announcement will come by the end of the year, and has ordered the Centers for Disease Control to order states to speed local regulatory obstacles to approve anything announced by Nov. 1.

Both FDA administrator Stephen Hahn and Dr. Fauci have noted that an independent monitoring board could recommend a trial be ended early if interim results show strong efficacy. The FDA could then decide whether to authorize it.

Medical people and scientists may be able to solve the vaccine approvals.

But the trust issue is a deeper and bigger trough right now.

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