The Vaccine is Just The Beginning
2020 has been a bleak and fearful year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, made even worse by culture wars over the correct response to the virus. Distrust in the media and skepticism of political leaders have existed in the United States long before the current health crisis; however, the pandemic has exacerbated suspicion of “the establishment” by forcing Americans into a fearful and uncertain isolation. The politicization of the pandemic divides liberals and conservatives on even the most basic of issues, including vaccination against COVID.
At a White House news conference, President Trump stated that the vaccine would be available as early as “the month of October”. President Trump’s vaccination timeline suggests he is promoting optimism surrounding his leadership amid the coronavirus pandemic to boost his re-election campaign, as any candidate would attempt to do. Considering approval of President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic reached a new low in July, with only 32% of Americans supporting his approach. However, statements regarding the timeline of vaccine distribution from the President propagate the illusion of national control of the coronavirus. In April the President stated at a task force briefing regarding restrictions, “I’m going to put it very simply: The president of the United States has the authority to do what the president has the authority to do, which is very powerful. The president of the United States calls the shots.” However, this illusion of power is false, as the governors have the power to amend restrictions and regulations within their state. The President paints himself as a superhero of sorts- only he can save the American public from the coronavirus.
With similar aspirations for a quick cure, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that states prepare for coronavirus vaccine distribution as soon as late October. The alignment of these vaccine distribution dates alarmed many within the medical community, with fears of potential political interference on the vaccine development procedure. Dr. George Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, is concerned about the politicization of the vaccine but says that while the timeline of the CDC is unrealistic, it is not necessarily politically motivated. Many remain skeptical.
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn has stated that the FDA would only make vaccine decisions backed by science, not politics. Pharmaceutical organizations have similarly sought to convince the public of their unbiased procedure and ethics. A recent pledge signed by the CEOs of major drug companies assured the public that they will conduct studies of potential vaccines with “high ethical standards and sound scientific principles.” Of the companies involved, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer, BioNTech are testing potential coronavirus vaccines in late-stage clinical trials. The pledge states that these drug companies will only seek Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for their vaccines until a phase 3 clinical trial proves that it is safe and functional.
Much of the American public seems unresponsive to their message: a study conducted by YouGov found that just 2 in 5 Americans plan on receiving the vaccine once it becomes available. Furthermore, an NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll in August found that 35% of the American public would refuse a coronavirus vaccine.
Politics has inserted itself into the narrative of the coronavirus and the health of the American public. These fears have led CEOs to promise to practice scientific research without the interference of political leaders. However, the fact that they feel the need to make such a statement is worrying in and of itself. Concern regarding the coronavirus vaccine is divided: some worry about the potential rushed production of the vaccine, while others fear that anti-vaccine sentiment will prolong the current health crisis and endanger lives. These anxieties stem from the heightened political divide of the nation; however, the coronavirus is an urgent and grave threat that is not politically debateable. When faced with immense deviation and crisis, politics should have no place in the development of a vaccine. Scientists, not politicians, must take the lead in our transformed nation.