Could the U.S. really see a coronavirus vaccine before Election Day?
A letter from federal health officials instructing states to be ready to begin distributing a vaccine by Nov. 1 — two days before the election — has been met, not with exhilaration, but with suspicion among some public health experts, who wonder whether the Trump administration is hyping the possibility or intends to rush approval for political gain.
The skepticism comes amid growing questions about the scientific credibility of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and their vulnerability to political pressure from President Donald Trump.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious-disease expert and a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, told CNN on Thursday that it is unlikely but “not impossible” that a vaccine could win approval in October, instead of November or December, as many experts believe.
“And I would assume, and I’m pretty sure, it’s going to be the case that a vaccine would not be approved for the American public unless it was indeed both safe and effective," he said.
Similarly, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, the administration's project to hasten the development of a vaccine, told NPR that it is possible but “extremely unlikely” a vaccine will be ready before the election.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany, meanwhile, gave assurances that Trump “will not in any way sacrifice safety” when it comes to a vaccine. And executives of five top pharmaceutical companies pledged that no COVID-19 vaccines or treatments will be approved, even for emergency use, without proof they are safe and effective.
The concerns were set off by a letter dated Aug. 27 in which CDC Director Robert Redfield asked the nation's governors to help government contractor McKesson Corp. set up vaccine distribution facilities so that they are up and running by Nov. 1. Redfield did not say a vaccine would be ready by then.