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If you believe in science then you should worry a lot about Trump rushing out a vaccine for the election

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If you believe in science and have respect for the expert opinion of immunologists and clinicians, then you should be quite worried about Trump exerting political pressure on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve a vaccine for Covid-19 quickly, for political purposes, before it has been proven safe and effective. It is, after all, scientists who have been sounding the alarm over precisely this scenario.


Michael Kinch, director of the Centers for Research Innovation in Biotechnology and Drug Discovery at Washington University in St. Louis, warned in a piece for Stat News that "premature approval of a sub-standard Covid-19 vaccine could have dire implications, and not just for this pandemic. It could harm public health for years, if not generations, to come." He warned that "elements now in place make such a disastrous outcome not only possible but in fact quite likely. Specifically, the FDA and its staff of chronically overworked and underappreciated regulators will face enormous public and political pressure to approve a vaccine."

"After the Food and Drug Administration offered shaky data to justify its approval of blood plasma to treat COVID-19, some scientists are worried the agency could bow to pressure to approve a coronavirus vaccine before it's fully tested," wrote Elizabeth Weise for USA Today.

These concerns are shared by scientists working within the FDA. "Under constant pressure from a White House anxious for good news and a public desperate for a silver bullet to end the crisis," reports The New York Times, "the government’s researchers are fearful of political intervention in the coming months and are struggling to ensure that the government maintains the right balance between speed and rigorous regulation." 

With scientists inside and outside the government sounding the alarm about political pressure resulting in a premature vaccine approval, one would have to have a significant degree of disdain for expert opinion not to share that concern. And yet, in an impressively dishonest bit of gaslighting, Republicans and their allies in the conservative media are turning that reality on its head and likening those who are listening to the experts to anti-vaccine activists--to those who refuse to recognize science.

The talking-point launched earlier this month, when Kamala Harris was asked by ABC News whether she would get a vaccine that was approved before the election. "I will say that 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," she said. "I will not take his word for it."

That's a sensible position that everyone should embrace--and a majority of Americans do. But right-wingers pounced. At A White House press conference, Trump demanded that Harris--and Joe Biden--“immediately apologize for the reckless anti-vaccine rhetoric,” adding: "It undermines science." An editorial in The Washington Examiner echoed the charge, bashing Harris for "veering into anti-vaccine conspiracy theory territory and raising questions about the safety of any coronavirus vaccine approved while President Trump is in office." And a piece in The Federalist (tagged under "anti-vaxxers") claimed that "by irresponsibly tapping the anti-vaccine sentiment that has been gaining ground in recent years, [Biden and Harris] are lending undeserved credibility to a movement that has already played a highly destructive role in undermining public health."

This, again, is just brazen gaslighting. Bill Gates, who is as far from an anti-vaxxer as a human being could be, doesn't trust the FDA to stand up to political pressure from the White House. And with good reason. According to Politico, "Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar led an escalating pressure campaign against his own Food and Drug Administration this spring and summer, urging the agency to abandon its responsibility for ensuring the safety and accuracy of a range of coronavirus tests as the pandemic raged."

That was part of a clear pattern coming from the top. "President Trump, faced with multiple crises and falling poll numbers less than five months before the presidential election, is prodding top health officials to move faster on a historically ambitious timeline to approve a coronavirus vaccine by year’s end," reports The Washington Post. "The goal is to instill confidence among voters that the virus can be tamed and the economy fully reopened under Trump’s stewardship."

There are some things that are so obvious that they shouldn't need to be stated. But we live in an era of abundant dishonesty, so I'll state the obvious: Anti-vaxxers oppose proven, well-studied vaccines because they don't believe in science. If you're worried about Trump putting the squeeze on regulators to cut corners and approve a vaccine before the election, your view is consistent with what scientists are saying and also with what serious journalists are reporting is going on within the FDA.

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