Kamala Harris said that she would not trust Donald Trump’s word on the safety of any coronavirus vaccine approved for use in America before the November election.
In an interview with CNN – excerpts of which were released on Saturday – the Democratic vice-presidential nominee warned of the potential for political interference by the US president over the approval of a coronavirus vaccine in order to boost his re-election chances.
Asked if she would personally take any vaccine given the green light in the US before the November poll, Harris replied: “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. I will not take his word for it.”
There have been widespread reports of pressure being put on administration health officials to accelerate the development and approval of a vaccine that could halt or blunt the impact of a pandemic that has cost more than 185,000 American lives and wreaked havoc on the economy not seen since the Great Depression.
Harris said she expected that medical experts would not be allowed to make decisions on a vaccine without interference from above.
“If past is prologue that they will not, they’ll be muzzled, they’ll be suppressed, they will be sidelined,” Harris told CNN. “Because he’s looking at an election coming up in less than 60 days and he’s grasping to get whatever he can to pretend he has been a leader on this issue when he is not.”
Concerns over potential politicization of a Covid-19 treatment and vaccine began in the spring, when Trump touted anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as the cure for Covid-19 despite weak evidence that the drug was effective against the virus.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the federal agency in charge of approving vaccines and treatments for public use, carried out an emergency use authorization (EUA) order to allow the use of the drug without the testing and trials that are usually accompanied with a drug rollout.
The EUA for hydroxychloroquine was revoked in June, with the FDA saying the drug has not proven effective against Covid-19 and can have severe side effects.
In late August, Trump announced another EUA for convalescent plasma, a type of blood therapy where blood plasma from a recovered Covid-19 patient who has developed antibodies is given to a patient trying to fight the illness.
While one study conducted on the therapy suggested that the treatment could be helpful, public health experts, including Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said that there needs to be larger, randomized trials in order to ensure the efficacy of the treatment.
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asked states to expedite approval for vaccine distribution sites by 1 November. Stephen Hahn, the head of the FDA, indicated that he would be willing to authorize a vaccine before phase three trials were complete – a controversial move that has been taken by China and Russia. Hahn insisted he would not expedite a vaccine to appease the president.
Moncef Slaoui, the co-chief of the White House initiative to release a vaccine, said that it was possible but unlikely that a vaccine would be ready by 1 November. “There is a very, very low chance that the trials that are running as we speak could [be completed] by the end of October,” Slaoui told NPR.
For weeks, Trump has been touting that a vaccine is right on America’s doorstep, an optimism that is not shared by public health experts. Trump told a cheering crowd at the Republican national convention last week that “we will have a safe and effective vaccine by the end of the year”.
The Trump administration has dismissed accusations that its claims of confidence in a vaccine in the next few months are a way to boost Trump for election day on 3 November.
“I think it’s very irresponsible how people are trying to politicize notions of delivering a vaccine to the American people,” Alex Azar, the health and human services department secretary, told CBS on Thursday.
Trump himself has denied that any motivation to get a vaccine out around election day has anything to do with the election itself. “I’m optimistic that it will be around that date … It wouldn’t hurt,” he said. “I’m not doing it for the election. I want it fast because I want to save a lot of lives.”