President Trump has come out swinging after Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris expressed doubt about a potential Coronavirus vaccine last week. The president charged that Harris and Democratic nominee Joe Biden were engaging in “reckless anti-vaccine rhetoric” and “endangering lives.” To some extent, he has a point but that’s not the full story.
The kerfuffle began last week when CNN released a clip of Harris saying, “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.”
Or did it?
Maybe it started last month when President Trump announced a push to approve a vaccine before Election Day or earlier last week when the CDC advised states to be ready to begin distribution of a vaccine by November 1.
Or did it?
Maybe the vaccine brouhaha began way back in the spring when right-wing conspiracy theorists started claiming that Bill Gates was planning to use a COVID vaccine as a Trojan horse for either mind control or population control (or both) depending on which version of the conspiracy they embraced. Like the underwear gnomes from South Park, the plan by Gates and/or the Illuminati/New World Order/whatever was generally explained like this:
Step One – Vaccine and/or mask mandates
Step Two – ???????????
Step Three – Fascism… Or communism… Or both.
I do applaud the president for defending the upcoming vaccine. His statement that a vaccine would be “very safe and very effective” was much needed. If there was any problem with this part of the statement, it was that it was five months in coming.
“The people will be happy, the people of the world will be happy,” the president added.
If you doubt the anti-vaccine hysteria surrounding a Coronavirus vaccine, you need only look to an August Gallup poll which found that 35 percent of Americans would not get an FDA-approved COVID vaccine, even if it was offered at no cost. The kicker is that Republicans were the only group in which a majority opposed the vaccine (53-47 percent).
But, while Kamala Harris’s words did not help the matter, it is the president’s own rush to approve a vaccine that has led at least some of the non-conspiracy crowd to doubt the safety and the efficacy of vaccine that bypasses the normal trials and approvals process.
Problems that come from bypassing safeguards, not mind-control chips, are the real danger of a vaccine. In 1976, the federal government rushed a swine flu vaccine in response to an expected epidemic. Smithsonian magazine notes politics became prevalent and science took a backseat. In the end, the vaccine was linked to increased risk for a rare neurological disorder, and the fiasco contributed to skepticism about vaccines that lasts to this day.
Even more recently, last spring Coronavirus test kits were in short supply because of a problem in the manufacturing process. The Washington Post reported that the problems were due to contamination at a CDC lab that “violated sound manufacturing practices.”
Cutting corners can cost lives. This is true both in the direct sense that an untested vaccine could be dangerous and indirectly due to time lost in fixing problems that would have been revealed earlier by following established procedures. As my dad has been known to say, “You can make time to do it right or make time to do it over.”
To his credit, Joe Biden stepped up to quell vaccine fears. Fox News quoted Biden as saying, “If I could get a vaccine tomorrow I’d do it. If it cost me the election I’d do it. We need a vaccine and we need it now.”
“I would want to see what the scientists said,” Biden qualified.
But Biden had some sharp words for Trump as well, charging that the president was “playing with politics. He said so many things that aren’t true.”
“If we do have a really good vaccine people are going to be reluctant to take it,” Biden added, which is a true statement supported by the poll cited earlier.
So what to do? The obvious answer is to avoid politicizing the vaccine. President Trump should stand back and let the scientists and medical experts handle the matter. In the past, the FDA has said that it will not “cut corners” in vaccine trials, and Moncef Slaoui, the scientist heading the “Operation Warp Speed” vaccine effort said last week that a vaccine by November was “possible but very unlikely,” per the Washington Post.
It is when the president’s statements conflict with those of the scientists that it sets off alarm bells in many people’s heads. In medical matters, we should be listening to the medical experts and not the guy who suggested injecting disinfectants. If the president wants to undercut a vaccine panic among Democrats and non-Republicans, it is as simple as saying that no vaccine will be approved or deployed before the doctors say that it is ready. Mr. Trump should paraphrase the old wine commercial with the consistent message, “I will serve no vaccine before its time.”
In the meantime, if the president wants to help the fight against the pandemic, he can start talking more to his base about the need for masks, social distancing, and a vaccine. In the end, it is the president’s own supporters who are more likely to “just say no” to a COVID vaccine than Biden backers. Straight talk about the need for mitigations from a president loved for his “truth-telling” might go a long way with the right-wing conspiracy crowd.
Or it might not. The president took months to call on his supporters to wear a mask (and to wear one publicly himself). In truth, the president’s message has been inconsistent. In July, the president called wearing a mask “patriotic” but no masks were in sight at the August Republican National Convention, even though attendees were not socially distanced.
From my conversations with Trump supporters over the past few months, it doesn’t seem as if the president’s call for masks made much of an impression on his supporters. Republicans seem just as anti-mask after the president made his pitch as they were before with many wearing masks (often incorrectly) only when they are required.
The same may be true of the vaccine. The anti-vaxxer conspiracies may now be so ingrained into so many Republicans that even President Trump cannot reverse it at this point. (It should be noted that the president made anti-vaccine comments back in 2016.)
To test this theory, I asked several friends in a Facebook group whether the president’s defense of the vaccine. Of the people who responded at press time, none said that the president’s statement changed their mind about vaccines.
“I am not a fan of vaccines in the contemporary era,” Russ said. “Proven old-school vaccines we grew up with were time tested, but the modern vaccine feels rushed, pushed (as in media advertising) and generally come off as ‘sales pitchy.'”
“If big pharma had not grown into a ‘mega-plex’ industry I might feel differently,” he added. “If science had not become ‘doctrine’ and ‘dogma’ on most matters, I would feel differently. Industrial growth is bad for overall trust.”
“I’m not a fan of the president, nor will I be getting the vaccine,” Tracy stated.
“I support effective vaccines for illnesses that are necessary to be vaccinated against,” said Janice. “My jury is still out on COVID.”
Janice’s opinion is where a lot of people are. They aren’t necessarily against vaccines in general, but they do want to ensure that a Coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective before they take it. That underscores the need for President Trump and his medical experts to be on the same page with respect to the fact that the vaccine will not be given until it is fully tested and approved.
My plea to both President Trump and the Democrats is this: Don’t make this political. Let the scientists follow established guidelines and do their jobs.
If you would like to continue the discussion on social media, you can visit David Thornton’s Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.