Vaccines save lives, are safe and effective and are arguably the most important development of modern science.
However, we should be concerned about President Donald Trump’s administration’s political interference at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), two of the world’s preeminent public health agencies. These institutions are tasked with monitoring the development of and offering the final approval on vaccines, which includes any potential COVID-19 vaccine.
A recent memo from the CDC directed states to prepare for the mass distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 1. Coincidentally, there is another major event happening just two days later: the general election.
Last March, the FDA granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the antimalarial drug Hydroxychloroquine after the Trump administration praised the drug. The authorization was reversed weeks later when large studies found the drug had no, or even negative, benefits.
In August, the FDA declined to issue an EUA for convalescent plasma treatments. However, once Peter Navarro, a White House trade advisor, told reporters that “there should absolutely be no controversy about convalescent plasma,” the FDA quickly reversed itself, issuing an EUA for the plasma therapy. The FDA commissioner then went on to spread false information that the therapy would save 35 lives for every 100 who received the treatment.
In July, a group of former CDC officials wrote a Perspective in the Washington Post titled, “We ran the CDC. No president ever politicized its science the way Trump has.” A recent poll by Harris found that 80 percent of Americans think the development of the COVID-19 vaccine is politically motivated.
Science should not be political. Politicization of science means the public may not trust the vaccine. We need to be fighting against apprehension now by demanding that the White House not interfere with vaccine development and approval processes. The major biotech and pharmaceutical companies have already taken an important step by announcing that they would not seek approval from the FDA until they are confident in the safety and efficacy of their vaccine.
It’s a matter of life and death that the American public trusts the vaccine. Only then can we return to pre-pandemic life. I will be the first in line when a vaccine is approved, but I will feel a lot better about it if the FDA encourages an extra month or two of safety trials. I know the public will too.
Jacob is from Plymouth, MN. His majors are biology and political science.