- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 20, 2020

A vaccine won’t stamp out the coronavirus unless a whole lot of people take it. But the effort is running into a wall of skepticism before any shots are approved, with Democratic governors setting up panels to double-check the Trump administration’s work and polls showing a large chunk of the public isn’t eager to roll up their sleeves.

It’s a sticky problem for a country that wants to gather with family and put away their masks at some point in 2021. And worse, the debate is unfolding in a bitter stretch of the 2020 campaign, with President Trump dubbing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo a “lowlife” on Tuesday for questioning the federal approval process and setting up a state review of the forthcoming data.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom set up a similar review board this week.

Mr. Trump says critical governors and Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden should be able to trust Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and other companies conducting late-stage trials of their COVID-19 vaccines.

“The greatest companies in the world, this has nothing to do with government,” Mr. Trump told “Fox and Friends” Tuesday. “They’ve come up with incredible vaccines.”

Others say Mr. Trump is his own worst enemy for touting a vaccine by Election Day — a timeline that is all but impossible and created fears that politics will overtake science in approving a product during the coming weeks.

Vaccines are given to healthy people, rather than the sick and desperate, so they have a high bar for approval. They’re also considered some of the best tools of modern medicine in defeating health disasters and the misery they bring.

Bolstered by generous federal support, top drugmakers have been working at a record pace to deliver a vaccine that can wind down the COVID-19 crisis that has killed more than 1 million people worldwide and upended economies.

Even once a vaccine is approved, the rollout will take some time before the virus is tamped down to manageable levels, a process that should last well into next year.

“I would say it should be manageable after 60% of the people have sufficient immunity in the community,” said Barry Bloom, a research professor of public health and former dean of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “So it will still be here, some people will be infected.”

It could be a tough road ahead.

A third of Americans told a Siena College/New York Times poll they would definitely or probably not take the vaccine after it was approved by the FDA. Also this week, the STAT-Harris poll found 58% of people wanted to get vaccinated right away, down from 69% in August, driven partly by the politicization of the COVID-19 response.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Tuesday suggests that Mr. Trump needs to get out of his own way as he touts the imminent delivery of a vaccine at campaign rallies across the country.

A majority of respondents — 55% — said they think Mr. Trump is intervening in the Food and Drug Administration’s review of a vaccine, and only 9% of that share think that is a “good thing.” Nearly four in 10 say Mr. Trump is not intervening, a share that’s dominated by Republicans.

At the same time, large majorities of the public “have at least a fair amount of trust both in the FDA to ensure any vaccine is safe and effective (71%).”

“If the FDA and [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] aren’t meddled with by the president, they are a good source of information. In general, it would be wise not to take what real estate developers say on health care matters too seriously,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

One leading voice, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he will look at the data the FDA uses to make its decision.

“I trust the permanent professionals in the FDA. The director, the commissioner of the FDA, has been very public that he will not let politics interfere,” Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday.

“We have an advisory committee to the FDA who are made up of independent people who I trust,” he said. “Put all those things together, if the final outcome is that the FDA approves it, I will take it.”

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn says he won’t let political interference affect its review. The agency demanded two months’ worth of safety data on half of trial enrollees following their final dose, prompting Pfizer to say it will not request emergency approval of its vaccine until the second half of November.

Dr. Bloom said the public will be able to see the results of an initial rollout of the vaccine in health workers before they get the chance to get the vaccine. He also said Americans should seek a non-political voice who can explain the scientific data in an easy-to-understand way.

“I think with a new vaccine for a new disease, any thinking person should have a degree of skepticism and should ask to see real data,” he said.

Some states want to double-check the FDA’s work.

Mr. Newsom said he is enlisting physicians to work with the state health department in vetting the final vaccine.

“Of course, we don’t take anyone’s word for it,” Mr. Newsom said at a Monday news conference. “We will do our own independently reviewed process with our world-class experts that just happen to live here in the state of California.”

Mr. Cuomo appointed members to an independent Clinical Advisory Task Force in late September.

“Once the FDA says it’s safe, we’ll have a New York group of doctors and some of the best doctors around the world review what FDA did so I’ll be able to say to New Yorkers it is safe,” the governor said.

Mr. Trump scolded the New York governor in his Fox interview, continuing a long-simmering feud between the highly visible leaders amid the pandemic.

“When a politician is willing to say that and kill people and scare people from using something that’s going to be great and really solve a big problem,” the president said, “they ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

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