Harris also suggested that public health officials were likely to face pushback, potentially at the expense of their jobs, from the White House if they expressed reservations over a would-be vaccine or the standard for greenlighting it.
“If past is prologue, they will not, they’ll be muzzled, they’ll be suppressed, they will be sidelined,” Harris said. “Because he’s looking at an election coming up, in less than 60 days, and he’s grasping for whatever he can get to pretend he has been a leader on this issue, when he is not.”
News of the companies’ joint messaging plans came as Trump once again peddled unrealistic dates — and hopes — during a White House news conference.
“We remain on track to deliver a vaccine before the end of the year and maybe even before November 1st,” Trump said Friday. “We think we can probably have it sometime during the month of October.”
On Thursday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany claimed that “no one is pressuring the FDA to do anything.” But a CNN investigation
found something close to the opposite — that Trump is pushing for any scrap of good news, or the impression of it, and then pressing those around him to dress it up as a historic breakthrough.
That pressure-packed environment has already exposed potential cracks in the Food and Drug Administration’s armor of supposed independence. After dramatically overstating the therapeutic benefits of convalescent plasma — which is donated by people who have recovered from Covid-19 — two weeks ago, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn subsequently apologized for using a misleading statistic.
“I have been criticized for remarks I made Sunday night about the benefits of convalescent plasma,” Hahn, who insisted the agency was acting independently, said in a series of tweets the next day. “The criticism is entirely justified.”
It wasn’t the first time the FDA was forced to backtrack after giving substantive backing to a dubious coronavirus therapy. In June, the agency revoked an “emergency use authorization” for hydroxychloroquine, a Trump favorite that studies suggest is likely to do more harm than help, after the FDA determined the anti-malaria drug is “unlikely to be effective in treating COVID-19.”
“What I’m concerned about is there could be a gray zone where a vaccine looks partially protective and it goes on the market without a full formal review process,” Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccinologist at Baylor College of Medicine, recently told CNN
. Dr. Robert Califf, a former FDA commissioner, said he has long worried Trump would impose himself on the FDA’s processes, but believes that the President is, in the end, “extraordinarily unlikely” to go against top scientists.
And if he does, Califf added, there was still be one final, formidable line of defense.
“The medical community,” he said, “is not going to accept it and most people won’t get a vaccine if their doctor tells them not.”
Undermining public confidence
The Trump administration’s meddling, overt and by insinuation, also threatens to set off a vicious circle that could undermine public confidence in a vaccine that credibly meets the strict, long-held standards set by scientists and public health officials.
It’s a two-tiered irony that Trump, the author of untold conspiracy theories, who tweeted
anti-vaxxer propaganda before running for president, could now end up casting doubt on a legitimate vaccine — that he desperately wants and apparently believes he needs — to make its debut ahead of the coming election. A recent academic study
out of Australia found Trump supporters online are more likely to “hold anti-vaccination” views, another complicating factor.
The President’s insistence that a vaccine is near and, as he put it during a Friday news conference at the White House, that the country is “rounding the corner on the virus,”
baffled Dr. Anthony Fauci, the widely trusted, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“I’m not sure what he means,” Fauci said on CNN
, during an interview after the President’s Friday remarks. Fauci noted that while “there are certain states that are actually doing well in the sense of that the case numbers are coming down,” at least five others had reported rising positivity rates — a development that would indicate the virus is spreading, not abating.
Pressed on his characterization during the new conference — and how it could possibly jibe with a new model, from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which projects that more than 410,000 people
in the US could die from the coronavirus by the end of the year — Trump spun through a variety of his old hits, including one that contends his handling of the crisis would be more accurately viewed if “you took out New York,” one of the hardest hit states, from the totals.
But New York is, and remains, part of the country and Trump never came close to squaring his claim with reality. In the process, he sought to further muddy the already murky waters surrounding his and his administration’s handling of a historic crisis that has killed, to date, nearly 190,000 people
in the US alone.
Harris, in her interview with CNN,
skewered Trump as a deeply untrustworthy figure. She also got a question that many Americans are asking themselves now: Would she take a vaccine that was approved and distributed before November 3?
“I would not trust Donald Trump and it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about,” the California senator told Bash. “I will not take his word for it.”