President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that the White House may not approve tougher guidelines that are likely to be set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for authorizing the emergency use of any coronavirus vaccine. Trump's remarks come just a day after speculation became rife that the FDA might soon announce tough new standards for the authorization of a coronavirus vaccine that will make it unlikely one to get clearance before election day.
Although the race to find a shot for Covid-19 is heating up, regulators and drug makers in recent weeks have vowed to adhere to science and not politics in deciding when a vaccine is ready to reach the market. Understandably, Trump's move could once again raise concerns that the Covid-19 vaccine race is being politicized ahead of the US presidential election.
Politicizing the Vaccine Race
Trump gave a clear indication at a press conference on Wednesday that he could veto any tightening of US rules for the emergency clearance of a coronavirus vaccine. "That has to be approved by the White House," Trump said. "We may or may not approve it."
Trump has time and again claimed that a vaccine to treat the Covid-19 would be available before the election day, although researchers and experts have said that it is quite unlikely that a treatment could be found any time before 2021. Trump also hinted that the FDA's decision to tighten the rules for emergency issuance of a vaccine "was a political move more than anything else."
The stricter FDA standards cleared a review by the Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday, with the expectation that the White House would soon approve them, according to two people with knowledge of the timeline. However, Trump's remarks on Wednesday might now jeopardize the entire effort that is being viewed as key to boosting public confidence in any eventual coronavirus vaccine.
Trump's Arrogance Continues
According to a Washington Post report, FDA is expected to issue new guidance as early as this week to build public trust regarding the virus' efficacy and safety, which polls show has significantly declined since May as Trump has continued to emphasize a speedy release. The FDA has already indicated that it would hold a vaccine to a higher standard than other medications that typically receive emergency waivers from the agency.
Trump and his supporters have also been alleging government employees of trying to sabotage his efforts to combat the virus. In August, Trump attacked the FDA for harboring "deep state" staff slowing vaccine and drug work to hurt him politically. However, no proof of that has been found.
Presently, four companies — Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — have their vaccine candidates in the late stage trials. While everyone is expecting a vaccine at the earliest Trump's haste in getting one ahead of the election day has reignited fears that his administration will rubber-stamp a shot based on political calculations rather than scientific data.
Given this scenario, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn in a bid to reassure Americans on Wednesday said that any shot his agency greenlights will be safe and effective. But Trump seems to have played spoilsport once again by questioning the need for those updated guidelines at his press conference.