Scientists Worry About Political Influence Over Coronavirus Vaccine Project
By: Alex Oh
Back in April, when many hospitals were overflowing with patients and the lockdown was firmly in place, the Department of Health and Human Services gave a presentation to the White House about the pandemic. In the presentation, the department stated that rapid development of a coronavirus vaccine was the best way to control the pandemic’s spread. The presentation also announced a deadline for the vaccine.
“DEADLINE: Enable broad access to the public by October 2020,” the first slide read, with the date in bold.
While most vaccines take years to develop, Operation Warp Speed, the operation responsible for creating a vaccine for the coronavirus, plans to release a vaccine to the public in just a few months. This makes the operation extremely “ambitious,” almost to the point of raising suspicion.
With the election coming up in November, a vaccine in October would meet Trump’s need to eliminate the virus before election time, which is especially important as voters in the last couple of months have questioned the president’s handling of the situation.
On the other hand, researchers are worried that this extra motivation along with the public’s general restlessness about the pandemic might make it difficult “to ensure that the government maintains the right balance between speed and rigorous regulation, according to interviews with administration officials, federal scientists and outside experts.”
According to The New York Times, even without pressure from the government, there is still the question of how much to accelerate the process of trials and testing. If researchers spent less time developing and testing a vaccine, they could face the risk of creating a vaccine that is simply not effective or safe.
On the contrary, the country is desperate for a vaccine. As The New York Times puts it, with 1,000 people dying each day in the United States and schools struggling to reopen along with a massive recession, “the desire to find a way to return to normal life is powerful and transcends partisan politics and borders.”
Despite unified efforts from the Trump administration and a number of pharmaceutical companies, the Trump administration is pushing the October deadline to the end of the year or by early 2021.
Experts, however, are still concerned over whether the White House will push the Food and Drug Administration to skim through “insufficient” data and give emergency approval for the vaccine, most likely to be used by frontline health workers, before the Nov. 3 vote.
While researchers are facing tremendous pressure to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible, it still seems like they have a long way to go before approving a vaccine to the public.