Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham said Monday night that he would be “hesitant” to receive a coronavirus vaccine if one were available by year’s end, expressing concern that “political and financial corruption” in Washington could mar the approval process.
“I’m going to ask a lot of questions,” he said in a debate against Republican incumbent Senator Thom Tillis (R., N.C.). “I think that’s incumbent on all of us right now with the way we’ve seen politics intervening in Washington.”
Tillis, who said he would get a vaccine, shot back, calling Cunningham’s remarks “irresponsible.”
“That statement puts lives at risk and it makes it more difficult to manage a crisis that he presents to say he’s up to the task to manage,” Tillis said. “We just heard a candidate for the U.S. Senate look into the camera and tell 10 million North Carolinians he would be hesitant to take a vaccine. I think that that’s irresponsible.”
Monday night’s debate, the first of three U.S. Senate debates, was moderated by WRAL anchor David Crabtree, who asked if the candidates would be willing to get a vaccine should one be approved by the end of the year which “could mean condensing timelines from years to months … with compromises and risks.”
“I think we have seen entirely too many times, and especially in recent years, politics intervening in what should be driven by health and science,” Cunningham said. “Historically and traditionally, I would support and have confidence in the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] and the processes that they go through to approve a drug. But we have seen an extraordinary corruption in Washington.”
However, after the debate Cunningham clarified, “If public health professionals sign off, then I will not hesitate and I would encourage others to do so.”
After reports that the Centers for Disease Control had asked governors to prepare vaccine distribution sites by November 1, some critics raised skepticism over the safety and efficacy of a vaccine that had been developed and approved so quickly, particularly if a vaccine’s release should happen so close to the presidential election.
Several vaccines are in phrase-three trials as part of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s effort to accelerate the development, manufacturing and distribution of coronavirus vaccines and treatments.
Tillis said he had “no doubt in my mind the vaccine would be safe,” calling the Food and Drug Administration “the gold standard.” The FDA would not approve a drug that was not safe for use by Americans, he said.
Much of the one-hour debate focused on the coronavirus pandemic as North Carolina has recorded more than 185,000 cases and more than 3,000 deaths from the virus.