Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris have expressed fears about the potential interference by President Trump in the production and distribution of a coronavirus vaccine — but it’s not a concern shared by the nation’s top public health experts.
“We can’t allow politics to interfere with the vaccine in any way,” Biden said on Wednesday. “Americans have had to endure President Trump’s incompetence and dishonesty when it comes to testing and personal protective equipment. We can’t afford to repeat those fiascos when it comes to a vaccine, when it occurs. The stakes are too high.”
"I trust vaccines. I trust scientists. I don't trust Trump," he said.
While both candidates have made it clear they support a vaccine – even if distributed by a Trump administration – they’ve also expressed concern about such a vaccine’s safety due to a perceived push by Trump to quicken the pace of its production.
On Wednesday, while Biden said he trusts vaccines, he also set out questions he said “this administration is going to have to answer to assure the American people that politics will not play a role whatsoever in the vaccine process.”
Those remarks came after Harris caused controversy by predicting that public health experts will "be muzzled, they’ll be suppressed, they will be sidelined, 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 that he’s been a leader on this issue when he’s not."
When asked whether she would get a hypothetical pre-election vaccine, she said: "Well, I think that’s going to be an issue for all of us. I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump and it would have to a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and reliability of whatever he is talking about, I will not take his word for it."
"I would want to see what the scientists said," Biden said separately in response to a question about whether he would take a vaccine approved by the Trump administration. "I want full transparency on the vaccine. One of the problems is the way he's playing with politics. He says so many things that aren't true and I'm worried if we do have a really good vaccine people are going to be reluctant to take it."
But those concerns have been repeatedly pushed back against by some of the nation's top experts and health officials.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top disease specialist in the country, said this month that he was “not concerned about political pressure." On Fox News’ "Daily Briefing" last week he said that he would not be “muzzled” and noted that trials have been put on hold when there was an adverse event.
"The process that's going on in trying to prove the safety and the efficacy of a number of vaccines is a sound process,” he said. "I have faith in it, there are outside boards, data and safety monitoring boards, there are committees that advise the FDA about this, so I have confidence that things are going to be done in a scientifically sound manner."
National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, on MSNBC last week, assured viewers that there would not be “shortcuts” in safety and efficacy assessments and that “there are multiple different layers of oversight of this to make sure that nothing gets pushed through unless it meets the highest standards, probably the highest standards that ever have been applied for a vaccine are going to be applied in this situation.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield was grilled in a Senate hearing on Wednesday about his office naming a potential Nov. 1 date for a vaccine to governors, with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., accusing him of “deliberately laying it out two days before the election.”
Redfield pushed back, saying that the date was prepared by subject matter experts and motivated by concerns that the vaccine would be delivered but officials weren’t prepared to distribute them.
“There was absolutely no political thinking about it, you could say [that] retroactively somebody should have thought a little more political, but there was no political intention whatsoever,” he said.
“I must say I don’t find that persuasive,” Merkley responded. He followed up and asked if there was any contact from the administration connected to the date.
“Absolutely not,” Redfield said.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams, meanwhile, told lawmakers last week, “There has been no politicization of the vaccine process whatsoever. We have a process in place that I trust as a doctor, as a dad.”
Meanwhile, Republicans and the Trump campaign have blasted Biden and other Democrats for casting doubt on the vaccine process.
"Democrats like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are risking American lives by casting aspersions on the coronavirus vaccine for political gain,” Steve Guest, the Republican National Committee rapid response director, said.
Trump on Thursday accused the Democrats of being “angry” that a vaccine was being created ahead of schedule. He's previously called on Biden to stop promoting "antivaccine theories."
“The Democrats are just ANGRY that the vaccine and delivery are so far ahead of schedule. They hate what they are seeing. Saving lives should make them happy, not sad!” he tweeted.
Biden in a CNN town hall Thursday evening doubled down on his statement that he doesn’t trust Trump on a vaccine, but indicated that he does trust the nation’s public health experts.
“I don't trust the president on vaccines. I trust Dr. Fauci. If Fauci says the vaccine is safe, I take the vaccine,” he said.