There Is No Trump Vaccine

A nurse prepares an influenza vaccine injection at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston in 2013. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
If and when a vaccine for COVID-19 does become available, it is the medical authorities, and not Trump, who will be demanding your trust.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE T hese are wicked times when you have to say the simplest truths in the simplest way so as not to be misunderstood.

There is no Trump vaccine for COVID-19. Nor will there ever be one. If Trump tells you there is a Trump vaccine, and you should take it and reelect him, don’t believe him. If Trump’s opponents tell you there is a Trump vaccine, and you can’t trust it because he’s trying to get reelected, don’t believe them. Donald Trump is not a medical scientist. He is not a pharmaceutical research team. Trump is not a pharmaceutical manufacturer that can go rogue and produce a vaccine.

There is no possible world in which you would have to place your personal faith in Trump’s integrity before giving consent to a needle being put in your arm or in the arms of your children.

Anyone who tells you differently is ignorant, cynical beyond measure, or simply using Trump as a way of laundering views about vaccines that would get them labeled an anti-vaxxer.

In the cynical column, you must put vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris. “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 a vaccine. When it was put to her that Dr. Anthony Fauci assured the media that relevant medical authorities would be endorsing a vaccine, not just elected officials, Harris speculated, “They’ll be muzzled; they’ll be suppressed.”

For an example of political laundering, you can see former Democratic congresswoman Katie Hill, who makes the logic explicit.

To be fair, it’s perfectly reasonable to be skeptical. Major corporations, research labs, and the medical community as a whole are not infallible in their work. It is a novel virus, and there are no known vaccines for any coronavirus. But the doubt, fear, and need for persuasion have no real connection to Donald Trump.

That Trump would prefer to have a vaccine approved before the election is obvious. But wanting approval fast does not distinguish him from the leaders of any other nation, all of whom have an urgent interest in seeing that their own institutions and manufacturers come up with the best COVID vaccine, not only as a matter of ending the crisis, but as a matter of realpolitik. (Nor does it make his incentives all that different from the leaders of certain blue jurisdictions, whose prolonged lockdown restrictions are in a sense premised on the imminent availability of a vaccine.)

The vaccine is not exactly “rushed” in any case. While approvals have been given faster than normal for new research, the fact is that the pandemic itself accelerates the research process. The number of research subjects is large enough to conduct what are normally years-long trials in only a few months.

Trump cannot make a vaccine appear out of thin air. He cannot give approval to a vaccine and prevent medical authorities from giving their opinion on it, and their confidence. He cannot bring about the manufacture of a vaccine, and even the (misguided) fear that he might has driven pharmaceutical companies to preemptively state that they will not proceed to manufacture treatments or a vaccine without a complete Phase 3 clinical study.

Even some of the companies working on trials in the U.S., such as AstraZeneca, are involved in simultaneous trials in the United Kingdom and South Africa. Trump has no power to influence the independent boards reviewing the vaccines in those nations.

The political logic of a Trump-vaccine conspiracy also doesn’t quite work when you realize that early voting has already begun in some states, and will soon begin in many others. It doesn’t work when life is returning to normal in huge portions of the country already as we enter the fall, and larger and larger portions of Americans fear the virus less than they once did. Nor does it work when roughly equally sized supermajorities of Democrats and Republicans are concerned about a politically motivated vaccine approval process.

Trump can tweet whatever he wants, and promise whatever he wants, but as we’ve already seen with the administration’s botched approval of plasma treatments, he cannot keep medical authorities from giving their informed opinions. If and when a vaccine for COVID-19 does become available, it is the medical authorities, and not Trump, who will be demanding your trust. If huge sections of American public life cannot bring themselves to trust the medical authorities in a crisis, that is a problem no president can solve.

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